Business

Growing mining industry could 'transform' the north's economy

The mining industry in the north has vast potential according to a leading government geologist
Gareth McKeown in Toronto

THE growing mining industry in the north has the potential to 'transform' the Northern Ireland economy according to a government geologist.

Speaking at the PDAC (Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada) conference in Toronto, one of the leading mining conferences in the world, Dr Marie Cowan said Northern Ireland is one of the most desirable places for investment in the world, with vast potential for mineral exploration.

Dr Cowan, who is the director of Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI), a division within the Department for the Economy, believes the mining sector has the potential to be a "significant player" in the north's economy.

"In our 14,000 sq km we lay claim to the most diverse geology on the planet. And as a result we have a very diverse mining heritage, so dating back to Celtic times, but sub surface mines certainly the 17th century."

"Because of the diversity of the geology the natural resources are there. It has platform for an industry for various commodities and gold is obviously the 21st century story," she said.

Canadian firm Dalradian Resources lodged plans for a £750 million gold mine at Curraghinalt in west Tyrone last November and has said $1 billion (£750 million) is to be spent building and operating the mine over the lifetime of the project (25 years), which would create roughly 350 direct permanent jobs.

Dr Cowan believes the proposed mine is a "game changer" for the north west.

"The development of gold mining industry has the potential to be a game changer in the north west in terms of the 350 plus jobs, in terms of the money that's been invested locally to bring the company to this stage."

As part of her organisation's work the GSNI provides geoscience information and services to inform decision making and has been responsible for mapping the geological landscape of Northern Ireland through the Tellus survey. As a result she is well-placed to comment upon the potential for the mining industry in the north. In addition to the potential gold deposits in west Tyrone she highlighted a lead zinc deposit in ground around the Dalradian project, which could have even greater return prospects in the long term.

"Our chief geologist basically draws the analogy between it and the Buchans deposit in Newfoundland, Canada. So you're talking in order of magnitude, greater potential than even the gold so it is really significant," she said.

It is not just Dr Cowan who views Northern Ireland as an ideal location for mineral exploration, as Canadian think tank, the Fraser Institute also ranks the north amongst the most desirable in the world for foreign direct investment.

In its Policy Perception Index (PPI), which ranks around 100 jurisdictions in terms of the area's administration enabling investment and development Northern Ireland now sits sixth in the world, an important ranking given the emphasis placed on the statistics by mining exploration companies.

Looking ahead and Dr Cowan believes there is massive scope for national resource development in Northern Ireland.

“We have a long list of ideas," she said.

"Everything from earth elements to geothermal to compressed air energy storage, there's potential for lithium, more tin, cobalt. This is just the beginning of something that could be transformational.”

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