Cautious welcome to prospect of zinc mine in North East

Canadian company Minco has been carrying out test drilling at three sites in Cumbria, County Durham and Northumberland

Professor Stan Higgins
Professor Stan Higgins

Process industry leader Professor Stan Higgins has cautiously welcomed news that a mining giant believes the North East has the potential for a “world-class” zinc mining operation.

Canadian company Minco has been carrying out test drilling at three principal sites in Cumbria, County Durham and Northumberland which fall within the North Pennine Orefield, an area covering approximately 350 square miles, and initial test results have proved positive.

The firm, which has already put �500,000 into the project, are initially centring efforts near Nenthead in Cumbria and Allenheads in Northumberland as part of a �640,000 exploration programme, and it is believed up to one million tonnes of zinc could be extracted a year.

Mining on the North Pennine Orefield dates back to Roman times, but ceased prior to the Second World War, yet using new techniques Minco is reaching minerals far beneath the old historical underground mine workings, to what they believe to be a huge quantity of undiscovered deposit.

Minco said up to 500 jobs could be created if a mine is developed, but Professor Stan Higgins of Teesside-based Nepic, (the North East of England Process Industry Cluster) said more jobs could be established.

He warned, however, that the project is still at a very early stage and, despite initial results showing the orefield to be plentiful, it may not actually result in a mining operation.

A working zinc mine could create a host of jobs and work through the supply chain formed by a development, mainly for the North East ports and logistics firms who will be required to transport the minerals to suitable refineries.

He said: “The North East has lots of old minerals and I’m sure this prospecting activity will go on.

“The firm seems confident it has found a rich cache of zinc and as mining and extraction techniques improve even small quantities seeing viable. It is early days, but I hope it is a new industrial possibility for our region.

“However, I have lived in other regions where high expectations have come out of similar programmes, but when commodity prices change they can get less or more viable.

“Often extraction of minerals is very dependent on commodity pricing and these things fluctuate rapidly. As for other jobs that would be created in a supply chain, we wouldn’t have a refinery capable of processing the minerals in this region, so it would be transport and logistics firms who would most benefit, taking them away to refineries, and the region’s ports.”

This year the North Pennines is celebrating 25 years as a protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

John Riddle, chairman of the Northumberland National Park Authority, said: “Historically the North Pennines has been a mining area and there are clearly job opportunities here. However, the AONB and landscape issues would have to be looked at very closely.”

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