Strategically important metals - Science and Technology Committee Contents


Supplementary evidence submitted by The Geological Society of London (SIM 10a)

1.    During oral evidence on 26 January 2011 the Committee asked the Society to clarify paragraph 13 of our submission dated 17 December 2010.

"With modern mining and extraction techniques coupled with high levels of environmental safety awareness and protection, we believe it is possible in most instances to satisfy reasonable concerns as well as to deliver local and national economic benefit. We would be happy to provide details of specific instances if this is of interest to the Committee".

2.    This additional Memorandum provides such details by giving selected examples. In exploration and production all these operations make a significant positive contribution to their local as well as their national economy.

CONONISH (SCOTGOLD RESOURCES LTD, GRAMPIAN REGION)

3.    Current resources at Cononish are estimated at 163 kozs and 596 kozs of Au and Ag respectively (in Measured, Indicated and Inferred categories). The contained metal content at current prices is valued at approximately £140 million making the operation highly profitable. (The resource estimate does not include Te as previous explorers did not assay for Te - but reserves are probably of the order of 7 tons which would significantly contribute to European production; global use is less than 200 tpa) An independent consultant's report indicates an exploration target of an additional 0.5Mt to 1Mt of ore within a few kilometres of Cononish. There is an exploration target of 0.5Mt-5Mt at Beinn Udlaidh based on breccia pipes and Scot Gold Resources Ltd is probably quite close to defining a few more targets in the next three to six months of a similar size to Cononish within a 15 km radius of Tyndrum. Their wider exploration area covers some 4,000 km² which is believed to be prospective for gold and other metalliferous deposits. At present, the company employs four staff directly and two others as consultants on exploration and would hope to increase this as things move forward. To date probably in excess of £4 million has been spent and the cost of investigatory work completed previously on Cononish and the surrounding area probably amounts to £5-10 million, much of this sum being spent locally. The exploration potential of the Dalradian rocks of the Scottish Highlands is well documented and demonstrated in equivalent rocks elsewhere (for example, Sweden, Norway, Canada and US) and success in developing a working mine at Cononish will attract further exploration.

4.  Based on present resource estimates the mine in production will employ 52 people year-round in full time positions with an annual wage bill in excess of £2 million. The necessary skills are largely available locally. The estimated impact using ONS multipliers suggests a contribution of around £50 million to the UK economy overall. This does not consider downstream value added to possible products. Although at an early stage, the company is looking at a partnership to promote some form of Scottish Gold Jewellery manufacturing locally or in Scotland using this unique product. Additionally the local community are most supportive of the proposals and wish to set up some form of "tourist" attraction based on historical mining in the area and obviously Scotland's only gold mine - this hopefully will add post-closure more sustainable benefit in the area.

5.  In terms of satisfying planning and environmental legislation, the initial application was turned down largely because of concerns about "visual" impact in the National Parks but since refusal Scotgold Resources has been working to meet these concerns by reducing the size of the tailings facility and by incorporating some underground disposal. For environmental reasons, a gravity/flotation process rather than the use of cyanide will be employed. Plant has been designed at additional cost to minimise the footprint—modularised and contained in a single building rather than a traditional design. The location demands the highest environmental and planning standards and it is perhaps significant that the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency withdrew their objection. The company is currently sufficiently encouraged to re-apply for planning permission.

6.  Although Cononish is planned to be a small mine, and there are few of equivalent size in the UK, there are many mines operating profitably in similar "legislative" regimes where the highest standards of environmental and societal protection are required. Examples can be found in Canada, Australia and Sweden.

7.  The Committee is welcome to visit the mine if it would find that useful.

(Based on narrative provided by C J S Sangster of Scotgold Resources Ltd)

Other examples

8.  Although not concerned with metalliferous mining, the following examples illustrate that extraction and restoration is compatible with meeting the highest environmental planning requirements.

NEEDINGWORTH SAND AND GRAVEL (HANSON AGGREGATES, CAMBRIDGESHIRE)

9.  Extraction is expected to span over 30 years, during which time 28 million tonnes of sand and gravel will be removed. The restoration will be phased over the extraction period to include Britain's biggest reedbed (460 ha) along with open meres, wet scrub and grassland, within a 700 ha nature reserve (in conjunction with RSPB).

WICKEN SILICA SAND (SIBELCO UK, NORFOLK)

10.  The site is a modern extraction and processing site and is the largest quarry in the UK for the supply of sand for glass making. Sands for foundry castings are also supplied from the site. The restoration of the quarried areas has been an ongoing activity for much of the past 100 years and large areas have been re-instated to woodland, lakes, heathland and grassland. Many of these areas are open for public access, some are operated as leisure businesses and some of the heathland restoration areas are actively managed with limited or controlled access in the interests of nature conservation. Several Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) are present in the vicinity, including part of the old quarry workings at Leziate. Adjacent to this geological SSSI is an RSPB nature reserve, following a donation of land from WBB Minerals. The Wicken North restoration area has won an award from the Norfolk Branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

PLENMELLER COAL (UK COAL, NORTHUMBERLAND)

11.  Coal has been extracted in the area of Plenmeller since the late 19th century. In 1987, planning consent was issued to British Coal (now UK Coal Ltd) for opencast coal extraction, and digging started in 1988. Following a public enquiry, planning consent was issued on the condition that approximately 190 ha of the site were restored to upland heathland incorporate cotton grass, mat-grass, heath rush, heather and sphagnum moorland plant communities. Despite being in the early stages of habitat establishment, the site is already attracting many important species of birds such as Lapwing, Curlew, Redshank, Grey Partridge, Merlin and Hen Harrier. Local people enjoy these birds and their habitat using the many footpaths throughout the site.

BALLIDON LIMESTONE (TARMAC, PEAK DISTRICT NATIONAL PARK)

12.  Ballidon is located within the Peak District National Park, approximately 10 km north of Ashbourne and 21 km south west of Matlock. The quarry first became operational in the 1950's. The current site Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) describes a five-year programme of ecological restoration and management works which will contribute to the long-term restoration extending to 2037. Being located within the Peak District National Park and adjacent to Ballidon Dale Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), land-forming has had to screen the quarry from, and at the same time blend into, its surrounds. The restoration at Ballidon is specific to the Quarry, but the approved plan does aim to be sympathetic to the surrounding area in terms of landscape and flora. The site BAP aims to contribute to the Peak Park BAP targets.

Geological Society of London

16 February 2011


 
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Prepared 17 May 2011