Look beyond bauxite, Shaw urges mining industry
Mining Minister Audley Shaw is again calling for focus to be placed on the diversification of mining and extraction activities in the island, to sustain the industry beyond the bauxite era, which is projected to come to an end in the next two decades.
“It would be a dangerous mistake if we don’t plan for life after bauxite and alumina,” warned Shaw as he addressed the Manchester Bauxite and Alumina Conference at the Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville, Manchester, on Thursday.
The conference was coordinated by the Manchester Parish Development Committee, in partnership with the Ministry of Transport and Mining.
With JISCO Alpart closed for modernisation works, Jamalco undergoing renovations after a major fire causing an estimated loss of US$500,000 per day, and a number of plants permanently closed, Shaw said there was an urgent need for an effective plan for the development of other available minerals.
“The future of the extractive industry will include the exploration and development of other minerals such as limestone,” he said.
Rare earth minerals
With Jamaica accounting for the largest limestone deposits in the Caribbean, Shaw said that the country was already being eyed by large investors interested in rare earth minerals.
“Based on the preliminary indication that we have, Jamaica is a blessed country. We have resources. There is gold, copper and other rare earth minerals in this country, and we have reached that point now where we have to spread out our wings beyond bauxite and look for other God-given items that we have,” he stressed.
Cheyne Howell, a geologist in the Mines and Geology Division of the ministry, indicated that, with approximately 70 per cent of Jamaica’s land surface composed of limestone, the country’s reserve stands at approximately 150 billion tones, with 50 billion of that being mineable.
“ ... In 2020, Jamaica produced 3.4 million tones of limestone, and, from that, we exported 179,000 tones. In that same year, the global demand for limestone was approximately 81 million tones, valued at US$1 billion,” Howell said. “High-purity limestone, due to its value and abundance and numerous uses, has the potential to contribute significantly to the local economy.”
Since re-initiation of rare earth research in 2010, Richard Hanson of the Jamaica Bauxite Institute said there has been a comprehensive exploration sampling of all red mud deposits, which has so far revealed that samples from the Kirkvine plants have the highest concentration of rare earth minerals.
He said the procurement of equipment to facilitate extraction is ongoing.
In the meantime, Shaw lauded bauxite companies for continually giving back to the communities within which they operate as they contribute to the national economy.
The mining minister added that there would be a transformation of the bauxite development programme into a minerals community development programme, in keeping with the national minerals policy. This move, he said, will also be geared towards ensuring that communities impacted by general mining activities will benefit from the resources generated.