After campaign to ban fracking, locals face ‘another carbon-heavy extractive industry

Community leaders in Co Leitrim say they feel “under siege” after learning that the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan intends to grant a prospecting licence for gold and silver in part of the county which had previously been targeted for fracking.

Jamie Murphy, chairman of lobby group Love Leitrim, said many locals who had been involved in a successful six-year campaign to ban fracking were unaware that they were now facing a threat “from another carbon-heavy extractive industry” .

The Minister recently published notice of his intention to grant a prospecting licence to Omagh-based company Flintridge Resources for 47 named townlands in two separate areas, close to Manorhamilton. According to the department, objections can be submitted up to November 6th.

Members of Love Leitrim say the timeframe is too short given the difficulty of informing and mobilising people during a pandemic.

Leitrim farmer Eddie Mitchell, who was also involved in the campaign against fracking, a method of shale gas extraction, said it was “barely believable that the Government would try to impose another heavy extractive industry into north Leitrim without properly informing the public”.

Political decision

A notice published recently in the Leitrim Observer newspaper advised that the public had 30 days to submit objections to the Geoscience Regulation Office (GSRO). Mr Mitchell said he was not reassured by a declaration in the notice that a prospecting licence permits the holder to explore for mineral deposits but not to mine, and that any permitted activity would be “non-invasive” and have “minimal environmental impact”.

A decision to grant a prospecting licence was a key political decision, he said.

“A mineral prospecting licence is the decision that underlines all future authorisations. It’s the end of political oversight and the beginning of regulation, once that decision is made. It confirms extraction rights on licence holders over whatever minerals are found. This is what mining companies use as the basis to get investment.”

He said that while many people were only learning about the Minister’s intention “nobody will allow gold mining in Leitrim without a fight. We should be able to expect more from Eamon Ryan.”

Mr Murphy said it made no sense for the Government to issue a prospecting licence “in the middle of a climate and biodiversity emergency”.

“This is a very worrying time for the community for many reasons,” he said. “The mining process is very carbon-heavy and not compatible with building a sustainable future or with efforts to be carbon-neutral.”

‘Stop this industry’

Urging people in Leitrim to contact politicians to outline their fears, Mr Murphy said: “We do have a window of opportunity to stop this industry from gaining a foothold. Our call to the Minister and the Government is not to issue this licence.” He said there were real fears about the impact of mining on the landscape and on water supplies and air.

A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications said a prospecting licence did not confer any right to mine.

“Mining requires additional licences and permissions including planning permission from the relevant Local Authority and an Integrated Pollution Control Licence from the Environmental Protection Agency, ” he said. “Both of these permissions provide for public consultation.”

The spokesman said that, over the past 70 years, the department had issued many thousands of prospecting licences “of which only a small number have ultimately led to mining operations”.

The department said that Flintridge Resources sought to explore for gold, silver and base metals within north Co Leitrim in an area where its sister company, Omagh Minerals Ltd, had previously held licences from March 2014 to October 2020. The department said it was unaware of any complaints from the public in respect of Omagh Minerals’ activities .

A staff member at Flintridge Resources in Omagh referred all media queries to Mario Stifano, the chief executive of its parent company Galantas Gold in Toronto. It had not responded to a request for comment at time of publication.


Dalardian working to high environmental standards to meet strict regulations

Dalradian’s project at a glance:

A world-class gold, silver and copper mine that will boost the economy

Creating 1,000 direct and indirect jobs

Injecting £750 million into the local supply chain

A minimum of £4 million set aside for sustainable community projects

Peter McKenna, Dalradian’s community relations manager, says the plans will bring widespread benefits to Tyrone.

“Our proposal for an underground gold, silver, and copper mine in Tyrone represents one of the largest private-sector investments ever proposed for the region. It will have major positive economic and social impacts, just when we need them most.”

Similar projects – such as the Lisheen mine in Co Tipperary, and Tara Mines in Co Meath – have delivered enormous benefits to communities across Ireland. Cononish Mine in Tyndrum, Scotland, is also an excellent example. It operates in Loch Lomand and Trossachs National Park and employs people from the local community. Dalradian wants to recreate that success in Tyrone.

So, who is Dalradian, and what are its plans for an underground mine?

Dalradian’s project is at the edge of the Sperrins Mountains and holds one of the most promising undeveloped gold, silver and copper deposits in the world.

The existence of valuable minerals in the area has been known for centuries (small particles of gold were recorded in the Moyola River as early as 1652) but extracting large quantities has not been possible until now.

That is because the veins of gold that run through the rock do not contain large nuggets. Instead, microscopic particles of gold, silver and copper are bound into the rock, along with pyrite – or ‘fool’s gold’. Extracting these minerals requires modern exploration and underground mining methods.

Dalradian is a mineral exploration and development company that has been researching how to realise the project’s potential since 2009 when they were issued prospecting licences by the Northern Ireland government. Dalradian has invested more than £130 million in exploration, test mining, engineering and environmental studies. They aim to maximises the benefits for the community and other stakeholders while minimising the impact on the environment.

Gold, silver and copper all have contributions to make to the green economy. They are important for tech industry supply chains, and copper will play a central role in decarbonising the world’s energy supply. That’s because copper’s unmatched thermal and electrical conductivity makes it crucial for components used in wind and solar power generation.

Dalradian’s research work culminated in November 2017, when they submitted a detailed planning application to the Department for Infrastructure (DfI), requesting permission to build an underground mine. The plans outline a modern mine that sets a new standard for the industry in terms of environmental protection and use of best available technology.

Peter grew up in the Curraghinalt area. “Nearly every house in the immediate area has had someone work on the project, or for a Dalradian contractor at some time,” he says to illustrate the mine’s potential economic benefits.

“In the past decade, we’ve already employed around 200 people, used more than 200 suppliers from Tyrone, and engaged another 250 from the rest of Northern Ireland.”

To date, 35 students have received work experience through paid internships in areas such as IT, Environmental Management, Geology and Administration. In addition, Dalradian has provided 23 students at local colleges with bursaries to support their studies. We are Investors in People accredited and actively encourage staff development. Several staff members have been supported to complete advanced degrees

Those numbers will grow. The project is the beginning of a whole new industry that will transform Tyrone and boost Northern Ireland’s economy.

During operations, Dalradian’s mine is projected to create 1,000 direct, indirect, and induced jobs. It will require all sorts of skilled people other than miners – mechanics, lorry drivers, IT specialists, geologists, environmental managers, engineers, and administrators.

Dalradian expects to employ people with farming and construction experience since these skills are readily adaptable to mine work. They are investing £15 million to help local people re-skill through training courses, some in collaboration with South West College in Omagh. They expect that the resulting skilled jobs will pay an average salary of £40,000 – almost twice Northern Ireland’s average.

The project will inject £750 million into Northern Ireland’s economy over its 25-year lifespan as it engages an extensive network of local suppliers. Hardware stores, construction companies, hauliers, engineering firms, and equipment suppliers are just some industries that stand to benefit. The mine will also remit almost £100 million in taxes for Northern Ireland and reduce the country’s trade deficit by 2.4%.

Third parties have researched and endorsed these economic projections. Professional services firm EY conducted an external review of Dalradian’s proposal. It concluded that the mine – if approved – will provide a “significant and timely stimulus” to the local economy. Moreover, it would contribute to “a more prosperous, competitive, and regionally balanced economy” because the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council area would receive its most substantial benefits.

“A project of this scale would be an exceptional boost to the economy at any time,” Peter explains, “but in the current economic climate – when local unemployment has increased and is expected to grow further – this represents a phenomenal opportunity.”

Dalradian’s environmental responsibility underpins every aspect of their plans. The project will extract the mineral opportunity under the ground while leaving the landscape as close to its current condition as possible.

The site’s rehabilitation will begin during the mine’s operations and continue after mining has finished. The key to fulfilling this commitment is a dry stack facility to store the mine’s tailings. Instead of using a traditional settling pond or wet tails method, Dalradian will return roughly half the tailings underground to backfill and reinforce the mine’s workings. An engineered facility of crushed, compacted rock – the dry stack facility – will store the remainder and will be progressively restored. It is a landscaped feature: covered with topsoil, planted in with native trees and vegetation, designed for stability and shaped to fit the local landscape’s rolling hills.

The mine will protect groundwater and local rivers through careful water management. The underground mine will tunnel through rock that holds groundwater. Some of this will be used in the mine’s operations, supplemented with rainwater captured onsite.

Water will be extensively recycled within the site. A water treatment facility that leverages ultra-filtration and reverse osmosis technology will treat any water released into the local burns. The water that passes through this system will emerge the same quality as the water in the surrounding environment.

Dalradian plans for partial mineral refinement onsite, before sending the material for further processing at established sites elsewhere. This partial refinement will produce fine metallic sand known as a “mineral concentrate”. The Curraghinalt plant will only process material from the mine.

The project aims to be Europe’s first carbon-neutral mine, built for life in the low-carbon economy. Dalradian plans to achieve this by using conveyor belts instead of trucks and biodiesel and electric vehicles where possible. A comprehensive carbon offset scheme will account for any remaining emissions.

Dalradian achieved net-zero emissions for the second year running in 2020, conforming to PAS 2060 – an internationally recognised specification for carbon neutrality – and will continue to do so throughout the mine’s life. You can learn more about Dalradian’s environmental and social performance in their Responsible Business report, available on their website.

Dalradian supports the local community through various initiatives that protect the environment and help people reach their full potential. Over 600 local groups have already benefited, receiving support to conserve the local river, improve schools, and provide transport for older people living in remote areas. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Dalradian used its vehicles and supply chain expertise to source and distribute personal protective equipment, hand sanitiser, and medical help. The £4 million Dalradian Community Fund promises to continue this work.

Ireland is home to several modern mining projects that have enhanced the communities in which they operate. Dalradian’s project promises similar benefits for the people of west Tyrone.

Lisheen, in Co Tipperary, for example, hosted a zinc and lead mine from 1997 to 2015. The mine worked to a responsible closure plan, built into the project’s design, leaving an unspoilt environment and valuable infrastructure behind. Its effect was to provide training, well-paid employment, and social dividends for the local community.

In Navan, Co Meath, Tara Mines works closely with the local GAA club, community hall, and anglers’ club to improve the town’s life.

“Tara is a great example of how mining can enhance life for local residents,” says Peter.

“It’s the largest zinc mine in Europe, and it grew in tandem with Navan’s thriving tourism and agri-food sectors. The mine has operated safely and successfully near a tributary of the Boyne River for 40 years and directly and indirectly employs around 1,000 local people. It’s really at the heart of the community.”




Extractive industries’ continuous harming of the planet

The extraction of natural resources through mining and energy projects continues on a large scale, with disastrous environmental consequences. To understand how this is possible, one place to start is recognising that extraction is not just a physical engineering process. It requires social engineering as well. To be able to function smoothly, extractive corporations and their governmental allies sculpt social conditions. They “manufacture” consent and “manage” dissent towards their ventures. These industries depend on shaping the perceptions and behaviour of governments, shareholders, consumers, and people living in the areas where large-scale resource extraction occurs.

Usually, the media and academics pay attention when people resist such projects. A well known case is the struggle of the Ogoni people in southeast Nigeria to hold the oil company Shell to account for massive pollution. But it’s also important to notice the way corporations, governments and other elites try to pre-empt opposition. This means looking beyond obvious conflict and repression, to the less visible and long-term efforts to shape people’s opinions and behaviour. In a recent article in Political Geography, we analyse some of these corporate attempts at social engineering.

The counterinsurgency toolbox


Many of the corporate strategies and tactics to address opposition come from the toolbox of counterinsurgency. There are “hard” techniques, such as direct and indirect coercion, and “soft” tools aimed at “pacifying target populations”. The “softer” forms often relate to “community relations” work, such as sponsoring local events, medical clinics and other social development programmes. Social investments foster sympathy for extractive projects and dissipate criticism. How can one fight a corporation that provides so many life-affirming opportunities? The “soft tools” of social engineering also include bureaucratic procedures and practices. One example is legislation acknowledging indigenous people’s right to consent to or reject extractive projects on their land. A growing body of research shows how this legislation eases the way for projects to expand into community territories. Another way that extraction is made acceptable is through seemingly neutral speech. A case in point is speaking of “lessons learned” in relation to involuntary resettlement for extractive projects. In Mozambique, representatives of the government and extractive multinationals use the language of “learning lessons” from previous forced displacement efforts. This is to prevent opposition to renewed resettlement plans for liquid natural gas extraction in the north of the country. Directing attention to the technical procedures of displacement and how they can be “improved” takes attention away from displacement itself. And local NGOs become concerned with the resettlement initiatives, instead of critically monitoring the new projects. Bureaucratic procedures can make it look as if the people affected by resource extraction are participating, influencing decisions and sharing in the benefits. But the procedures actually channel and control dissent. They make it seem as if individuals themselves are responsible for gaining or losing from extractive operations, instead of directing attention to structural power inequalities.

The chimera of ‘green mining’


Another set of social engineering strategies is “green mining”. Since the 1990s, large-scale extractive companies have started to profile themselves as part of a global transition to sustainability. They engage in biodiversity offsets or draw on and invest in wind and solar power. More recently, corporations have attempted to depict deep-sea mining as sustainable. They claim it has limited impact on deep-sea ecosystems, in particular when compared to the dynamic and volcanic nature of the seabed. But it’s debatable how much “green extractivism” reduces the ecological harm of large-scale resource extraction. Offsets are based on the idea that mining corporations can make up for damage in one place by investing in biodiversity protection elsewhere. Research shows that the net benefits of these investments are very limited. Also, it’s difficult to compare the value of what is lost and what is protected. Biodiversity offsets can be part of political pacification, as shown by the case of Rio Tinto in Madagascar. Through a vast programme of offsetting and restoration, this corporation has managed to counter criticism of its operations. Yet offsets have created conflicts and insecurities for locals. They have also allowed the corporation to extend control over land, people and resources to multiple sites. The green economy has not only become a way to legitimise large-scale resource extraction. It has also become a new source of profit as corporations invest in market-driven nature conservation, ecotourism, and the production of biofuels and low-carbon energy.

Going forward


Without further economic transformation, the demand for so called “clean energy” will lead resource extraction to soar. For example, the production of minerals such as lithium and cobalt is expected to increase from 2018 by as much as 500% by 2050. “Green growth” is a false narrative that industries push to continue business as usual. Academics and social movements should expose this narrative to avoid it becoming the cornerstone of climate policy. To address the ecological and climate crisis, policies fostering degrowth and redistribution are needed. This is the only way to acknowledge the historical responsibility of rich countries and ensure climate justice on a global scale.



Dalradian’s environmental info on Tyrone mining plan

Dalradian’s mine has been opposed on environmental and health grounds by residents around its proposed location at Curraghinalt. But Dalradian said the mine would bring major benefits to the area as it recovers from the impact of Covid-19 and faces Brexit.

Dalradian has said it’s given more environmental information to the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) as the mining giant progresses plans for its controversial gold-silver-copper mine in Co Tyrone. Dalradian said the information provides another milestone for the company ahead of a public inquiry into its plans for the underground mine in the Sperrins. Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon announced in June that a public inquiry would take place, adding that her department had received over 40,000 representations about the proposal. Dalradian, a Canadian company, said the latest information it’s provided gives “additional clarity for the department and statutory consultees”.

The firm said it includes a refinement of the shape of a dry stack so that it blends in with surrounding land. It said it had also given details on changes to the proposed roads, relating to road safety signage, minor amendments to road width and changes to road intersections. There was also additional information about a mine waste management plan. Dalradian president and chief executive Patrick FN Anderson said: “Our application has been thoroughly scrutinised for the past three years and two rounds of further environmental information (FEI) by a range of government departments, planners and outside experts.

“We are keen to begin the final test – a public inquiry – so that we can bring modern, environmentally responsible mining to Northern Ireland. With Brexit and Covid-19 threatening to have a massive impact on the economy, the mine will be immensely beneficial for Co Tyrone and the wider region, creating and supporting 1,000 jobs and supply chain spending of £750m over 20-25 years.

“We will be investing in training to make sure that it is local people who benefit most from the long-term opportunities this project will create.”

He added: “While we recognise that the economic opportunities provided by the mine are exciting, safeguarding the environment is also important.

“That’s why our project design includes the best available technology and a commitment to net zero carbon emissions over the lifetime of the mine.”