THIS time last year, it would have seemed improbable to think that the world’s mining industry would turn its focus on to the resources hidden below one of Yorkshire’s most famous landscapes.
But the North York Moors National Park’s mineral reserves are now at the epicentre of what could prove to be one of the biggest boosts to the region’s industrial sector in recent years.
The proposals to create a mine to exploit a seam of potash dating back 250 million years were announced on January 17 by the multi-national firm, Sirius, after months of painstaking behind-the-scenes planning to secure mineral rights for more than 150,000 acres of land between Whitby and Scarborough.
And while concerns have been raised about the potential impact of the multi-million pound development, the fears have been tempered by what would be a welcome boost for employment opportunities if the mine does become a reality.
More than 5,000 jobs could be created, and the economic benefits are already being witnessed as exploratory drilling work gets under way to locate the best location for the potash mine. Sirius Minerals, which also has projects in Australia and the United States, has turned its main attention to North Yorkshire with hopes the mining operation could continue for up to 150 years – if it is approved by planners at the North York Moors National Park Authority.
The latest drilling is taking place at Ugglebarnby, above the village of Sleights, with the rig positioned on a hill-top that has a panorama of Whitby and the North Sea in the distance. Local business owners have welcomed the prospect of the potash mine and the long-term job opportunities it would bring. Andrew Radford, 45, who has run the family-owned Radford butcher’s shop in Sleights for the last 28 years, can see the exploratory drilling rig from his home in the village.
But he said: “There has not been any problems with noise or extra traffic, and no one has really noticed that the drilling is being carried out. Obviously it is only test drilling, but I would not have a particular problem if the main potash mine was based within a couple of miles of Sleights. It would bring in an awful lot of business to the local area, and there would be so many more job opportunities. Whitby and the surrounding area is so reliant on tourism now, and this would be a welcome alternative.”
The work at Ugglebarnby is being overseen by rig manager Mark Dring, who has returned to his home town of Whitby after working in the off-shore drilling industry. He is living on site throughout the week as the exploration of the potash seam continues around the clock in often sub-zero temperatures. Mr Dring said: “It has the potential to be massive. The work we are undertaking is often pretty gruelling, but it is what we are used to.”
Other recruits from the Whitby area include Tristan Pottas, 28, who has joined the York Potash scheme as project geologist to co-ordinate the temporary drilling programme after working in gold and copper mines in Peru and Australia. He said: “The mining industry has given me the opportunity to travel across the world, but it is something special to be involved in a project that could bring so many benefits to my home town, as well as the Yorkshire region as a whole.”
Sirius Minerals announced in October that one of the world’s thickest intersections of potash had been discovered. Initial exploratory drilling pinpointed a 60ft-thick seam of high grade polyhalite – potassium sulphate –which is nearly four times as thick as had initially been hoped. Test results which revealed the extent of the seam were collected from the first exploratory drilling near Robin Hood’s Bay.
But conservationists have claimed the mining operation could undermine the environment and the area’s tourism industry. The North Yorkshire Moors Association’s chairman, Tom Chadwick, has said the proposed potash mine has “no place in a national park landscape”. The MP for Scarborough and Whitby, Robert Goodwill, has maintained that while the proposed mine will bring a welcome economic boost, the benefits should not be at the expense of the national park’s landscape. He has claimed York Potash should not be handed an “environmental blank cheque” to push ahead with the scheme.