Countdown begins to £120m gold rush in rural Tyrone
Business confident of mining precious metal in three years
More than £120m of gold could be mined annually from the Co Tyrone countryside within just three years, it has been claimed. And the construction of the gold mine at Curraghinalt near Gortin could create around 500 jobs for the duration of the build.
It will also be one of the largest mines in Europe, according to the firm behind it, Dalradian Resources.
In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Northern Ireland board members Jim Rutherford and Patrick Downey say they are confident gold could be taken from the ground in around three years.
The Canadian-owned company has already injected almost £60m into the project over the last seven years. But now, it's ready to submit a full planning application by the end of the year.
If that gets the go-ahead work could be under way in the space of a year.
Mr Rutherford said: "You would start with 150,000 ounces at the most, but that's dependant on what's the equilibrium mining rate from the deposit."
The Belfast man has 25 years of experience in investment banking and investment management, and is also a director of Anglo American plc.
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According to Dalradian, surveys have shown there are more than four million ounces of gold in the ground.
It could produce 120,000 ounces of gold each year, and the mine could yield gold for decades.
It now has around 44 staff working on site, the majority employed from the Co Tyrone area. A further 22 are also employed through contractors.
Mr Rutherford said the peak workforce at the construction stage could reach 500 employees.
The pair are keen to reinforce that workers will be employed from the local area where possible.
However, there remains a lack of staff here trained in the mining sector. It’s something they are trying to work with colleges and universities to correct.
“The goal is to have all the jobs locally sourced,” Mr Downey said.
“This isn’t a project that is going to take five years to construct. The actual processing side of it is fairly straightforward,” Mr Rutherford said.
And while the major planning decision has to be taken by Stormont, work could begin on the mine as early as 12 months’ time, with gold following around 18 months later.
Speaking about any potential benefits to the community, Mr Downey explained: “It goes back in, all the money people spend locally; there will be engineering firms benefiting, equipment suppliers ... there’s quite a multiplier from this.”
As for the environmental impact and other concerns, he said: “The thing you want to do is design everything to exacting, world-class standards. The second thing is, an underground mine has a lot less of an environmental footprint than an open pit.
“The other thing is, if say we take out a tonne of rock, 60% is going back as fills. You mine a section, you are putting it back in.”
The business has already purchased what’s known as surface rights for the land, including additional areas earlier this year.
But it would not say who owned the bulk of land it plans to mine.
According to Mr Downey, it could be a working mine for 40 years.
As far as the response from the local community is concerned, there seems to be a bit of a mixed reaction.
A door-to-door survey commissioned by Dalradian in the Gortin/Greencastle area had suggested that 93% were either in favour of, or neutral about, the development, there have been objections to the prospect of mining.
Former Environment Minister Mark H Durkan gave planning approval to extend an underground exploration project for gold back in 2013, but there has been opposition from groups including Save our Sperrins.
And just last week, a group of protesters disrupted a meeting of Dalradian workers at the site.
Mr Rutherford, however, said of the project: “I’ve been 5,000 metres down mines in South Africa and 4,500 metres up in the Andes. This is one of the most exciting things I’ve come across in that time.”
And Mr Downey said: “It’s a world-class deposit which we are going to do to the highest standard. We are going to ensure that the communities are totally engaged and involved in it.”
Dalradian has set up a ‘community fund’ in the area, with around £220,000 being allocated towards education and sports projects.