M-I SWACO lodges planning application for UK barite mine

By Kasia Patel
Published: Friday, 27 November 2015

The application for a new barite mine in Scotland follows a 1996 planning rejection. The second attempt addresses environmental concerns that scuppered the original proposal.

UK oilfield services company M-I SWACO has lodged a planning application with the local council in Duntalich, north of Aberfeldy in Scotland, for the development of its barite (barytes) mine.

The application was submitted to Perth & Kinross Council and is the company’s second attempt to gain project approval, as a previous planning application to develop the resource was rejected in 1996.

M-I SWACO subsequently carried out three years of environmental studies to address concerns such as visual impact and the project’s effect on the road network.

The company also held a number of community consultation events and meetings with stakeholders to inform the various parties of the updated proposals.

"We have learnt a lot from the time of the previous application and have made significant adjustments to our proposals," Ian Hughes, project manager for M-I SWACO, said. "We have engaged extensively with the local community and other key stakeholders to ensure the success of this important project for both the local area as well as nationally."

M-I SWACO is looking to produce 120,000 tpa barite from the Duntalich mine, which is a replacement for its existing Foss deposit, where the complex geological structure is making it increasingly difficult to mine.

The Foss mine has been in operation since 1985 at a rate of around 42,000 tpa.

Duntalich has a resource in excess of 7.5m tonnes barite and, according to the company, could supply the UK’s barite requirements for more than 50 years.

"The Duntanlich orebody is unique in the UK," M-I SWACO said. "It is the only known significant barite deposit that is economic to work and will  enable the UK to become self-sufficient in a mineral vitally important to the North Sea oil and gas industry, ensuring security of supply."

According to the company, a third of UK demand for barite is fulfilled by domestic sources while the rest is imported, mainly from Morocco.

The development of the mine would provide jobs for 30 people from the local area, as well as indirect employment for local suppliers and contractors, M-I SWACO added.

Barite is mainly used as a weighting agent for drilling fluids in oil gas extraction and demand for the mineral is closely tied in with shale oil and gas exploration.

The UK’s centre-right Conservative party, which was returned to power in May this year for a five-year term, has announced plans to support the safe development of shale gas in the country by speeding up the time taken for fracking planning decisions.

In August, the UK’s Oil & Gas Authority (OGA) said it was planning to officially offer 27 onshore blocks from its 14th Onshore Oil and Gas Licencing Round to companies in the country for the development of oil and gas resources.

Should the development of these projects go ahead, the UK could see an increase in demand for oilfield minerals such as barite, bentonite, calcium carbonate and gilsonite – used in drilling muds and casing – as well as for frac sand, kaolin and bauxite proppant materials needed in fracking.