The West Coast mineral sands resource is “world class” with the potential to create about 300 jobs, Westland Mineral Sands (WMS) managing director Ray Mudgway says.
The company began mining at Cape Foulwind, near Westport, last year. It holds 10 mining and exploration permits Coast-wide.
It recently applied for two prospecting permits in Buller. One is for 73.2sq km of land at Addisons, on the Cape Foulwind headland; the other is for 43.2sq km on a strip of coastal land at Waimangaroa north of Westport.
Around 60 minerals are listed in the prospecting permit applications.
“The West Coast really is a world-class resource, I think that’s what we’re discovering more and more… It’s a world class scaleable resource as well – it’s not just got content it’s got scale in a global context,” Mudgway said on Thursday.
Until now the company had focused on coarse grain mineral sands. It was now investigating fine grain sands too, he said.
“There’s a lot more resource that has value globally in that fine grain sand… We’re spending several million dollars for exploration on other deposits.”
WMS holds mineral licences over 7700ha of the West Coast. That area could extend to 20,000ha, Mudgway said. “There’s generations of opportunity here.”
Markets could sustain more than a million tonnes a year of West Coast heavy mineral sand products.
“So when we talk about a 100-year business it’s not hyperbole, it’s a sizeable industry for the West Coast for 100 years.”
WMS’ Buller workforce would increase to about 70 once its shipping got underway, he said.
If WMS’ proposed mine at Mananui near Hokitika received resource consent it would create another 70 jobs.
“And if you add another site it would be over 200 [jobs] and if you added a fourth site it would be closer to 300,” he said.
WMS has previously said its average wage for direct employees was between $101,500 and $117,500 a year – well above the Coast median of about $54,000.
The company has been trucking heavy mineral sand concentrate from the Cape Foulwind mine to Nelson for export. Another 6000-tonne shipment was due to leave for China, Mudgway said.
The main product was ilmenite which contained titanium oxide used in products like paint, tiles and metal, he said. Garnet was also a high-value product.
WMS plans to export heavy mineral sands directly from the Coast once its motorised barge arrives from Indonesia. The barge was originally due in September but is now unlikely to arrive until February next year.
Mudgway said about 200 people had been working on renovating the vessel. It would come off the slip the week after next, then undergo sea trials. The voyage to Westport would take about 35 days.
WMS has resource consent to transfer heavy mineral sand from the barge to bulk export ships moored in Buller Bay and is seeking consent for similar transfers off Greymouth.
Development West Coast (DWC) recently announced it was investing $3 million in WMS.
“We see it as a diversification of the minerals industry into an area that is meeting demand and fits with the current global narrative of moving toward renewable energy etc. These minerals are a critical part of that,” DWC chief executive Heath Milne said.