My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: How allowing Limestone mining by Jamaica World and EPSA is Mining in the Cockpit Country

Saturday, July 20, 2019

How allowing Limestone mining by Jamaica World and EPSA is Mining in the Cockpit Country

Jamaica seems to be on a tear to give away our mineral resources to foreigners. In the process, we are sacrificing pristine areas of unspoilt countryside, especially in the Cockpit Country area, in exchange for short term gains: money.  

A good example of this is Jamaica World, a mining startup that has partnered with Spanish mining company EPSA to develope limestone-processing operation near Rio Bueno as reported in the article “Start-Up Mining Company To Exploit North Coast For Aggregates”, published Friday July 19, 2019 by Karena Bennett, The Jamaica Gleaner.

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Jamaica World has already applied to NEPA (National Environment & Planning Agency) for a permit to mine 50 hectares of land within Bengal. This area is located between Rio Bueno, Trelawny and Discovery Bay in St Ann just 4 kilometres from the Trelawny parish border.

Their contract with this global mining giant is to:

1.      Extract high-quality limestone from an open-pit quarry in Rio Bueno
2.      Process it for sale

They plan to sell limestone as:

1.      Aggregate
2.      Pulverised limestone
3.      Quicklime
4.      Hydrated lime
5.      Lime slurry

The Rio Bueno area is close to the Cockpit Country, a protected nature sanctuary that was set to be off limits by the Prime Minister Andrew Holness in 2017 as noted in the article “Holness Declares No Mining Will Be Permitted In Cockpit Country Protected Area”, published Wednesday November 22, 2017, The Jamaica Gleaner.

So who is Jamaica World? And how did they manage to land a contract to sell limestone to EPSA when we have a local limestone and aggregate shortage?

Jamaica World and EPSA - 8 years to mine Limestone in Rio Bueno

Jamaica World, whose owners remain anonymous, has its fingers in the following business areas:

1.      Mining
2.      Real estate
3.      Renewable energy sectors

Aside from this project partnership with EPSA, Jamaica World has as their only 572 acres (231 hectares) of land in Jamaica.

It is not clear how the profits will be split between Jamaica World and EPSA. I suspect that EPSA will handle the export side of the business, while Jamaica World will handle getting drilling rights and permits for their various operations and split the profits accordingly.

They are entering a market that includes the likes of:

1.      Lydford Mining
2.      John’s Hall Aggregates
3.      Jamaica Aggregates

Jamaica World's partner on the project, EPSA, has over 20 years of specialization in earth-moving works and assets of over US$900 million. EPSA has operations in the following countries:

1.      Europe
2.      Africa
3.      America
4.      Asia Pacific
5.      Australia

Lydford Mining operates in St Ann and John’s Hall Aggregates operates two depots located in Falmouth and Montego Bay. Jamaica Aggregates has a plant in Yallahs, St Thomas, and Agualta Vale, St Mary.

The Bengal quarry site project, which has NEPA’s blessing, is projected to have a life of 30 years, if extracted at sea level. Jamaica World plans to mine the limestone in two phases over a 5 year period:

1.      Phase 1 will see 4 and a half years spent extracting limestone at a rate of one million tonnes per year.
2.      Phase 2 begin during the last 4 months when the company will be used to prepare equipment, decommission and commencement

Jamaica World will ramp up production during Phase 2 which covers 20 hectares. Phase 2 is expected to yield 15 million tonnes of mined materials over a three year period.

At 20 hectares, this final phase represents the largest area for extraction and should take extending their operations to about eight (8) years. Jamaica World plans to provide the following over this 8 year period:

1.      4,000,000 million metric tonnes of construction aggregates
2.      100 Jamaicans employed

The Jamaican Government will collect some JA$636 million in quarry taxation in addition to increased revenue from the tourism sector.

Jamaica World is targeting the north-western end of Jamaica for the sale of construction aggregates. This is expected to benefit from the growing tourism sector, as these aggregates will help them to build worker accommodation and other amenities; the rest EPSA will sell abroad for profit.

So what is Limestone?

History of Limestone - Limestone is Jamaica's Oil and Gold

Limestone is by definition a rock that contains at least 50% calcium carbonate. All limestone contain at least a few percent other materials; quartz, feldspar, clay minerals, pyrite, siderite, and other minerals.

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Depending on how much of these impurities are present, limestone will have different colour and texture.

According to the Limestone Assessment Study published by Dr. Conrad Douglas, Jamaica is estimated to have some 150 Billion Tonnes of limestone as noted in the article “Limestone Resources Estimated At 150 Billion Tonnes - Next Challenge: Monetising The Mineral”, Published Friday November 22, 2013, The Jamaica Gleaner.

Of this amount, 50 billion tonnes can be easily accessed. The limestone in Jamaica is distributed as follows:

1.      60% of Jamaica by weight
2.      80% of the total surface coverage

Periodically, they may have to perform chemical assays from samples extracted via bore holes to make sure it remains pure. But it’s a simple task, with processing the limestone extracted being the only energy-intensive aspect of the Mining operation.

Other minerals produced by Jamaica were:

1.      Silica sand
2.      Gypsum
3.      Shale
4.      Pozzolan
5.      Marble
6.      Clay

Jamaica has some impressive Limestone production stats:

1.      72.673 million tonnes of industrial minerals in 2019
2.      89,531,000 tonnes tonnes of industrial minerals in 2017

In terms of Production volume of aggregates back in 2018:

1.      33.208 million tonnes of Limestone and whiting
2.      18.019 million tonnes sand and gravel
3.      17.241 million tonnes of marl

So why is limestone usage on the rise?

Why Limestone usage is on the rise - Fines for Illegal River miming a deterrent

The Jamaica World partnership filed this EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) to explain the shift towards using limestone, quote: "Traditionally, the use of crushed river aggregates has been the preferred raw material choice of concrete manufactures due to the combined factors of hardness, angularity, availability and relative ease of mining”.

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So basically river aggregates were usually the aggregate of choice.

So much so that many illegal sand mining operations felt the crunch when the fines got higher as noted in the article “Illegal Quarries On The Decline - Multimillion Dollar Fine Among The Deterrents”, published Sunday December 23, 2018, The Jamaica Gleaner.

However they pointed for following problems with getting river aggregates:

1.      The river sources for this material are located largely in the eastern section of the island.
2.      Exploitation of these reserves are constrained by the relatively long dry periods experienced over the past five to 10 years.

This, plus those fines for illegal sand mining from rivers has made it difficult to mine and manufacture construction aggregates. It has also made a switch to limestone more acceptable, to quote Jamaica World's EIA: “Limestone aggregates have consequently gained acceptance as an alternative material for use in the construction sector, provided the challenges of chemical purity, hardness and availability are successfully navigated”.

Aside from mining limestone for construction, what other potential uses does limestone have?

Jamaica's Limestone reserves - GCC and PCC for Pharmaceutical, Chemical and Metallurgical uses

Jamaica possesses three grades of limestone:

1.      Pharmaceutical
2.      Chemical
3.      Metallurgical 

Metallurgical grades are used primarily in the bauxite industry as slaked lime, which is a part of the Digestion process involved in the separation of alumina from bauxite. Extraction is fairly easy, requiring the miners in Jamaica to merely dig up the limestone, which is usually on the surface and sifted out from large stones and rocks.

Limestone can be processed into Value Added derivatives as stated in the article “Limestone Resources Estimated At 150 Billion Tonnes - Next Challenge: Monetising The Mineral”, Published Friday November 22, 2013, by Tameka Gordon, The Jamaica Gleaner.

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This is based on the Limestone Assessment Study published by Dr. Conrad Douglas, who also listed the following Value Added derivatives:

1.      Limestone aggregate
2.      GCC
3.      PCC
4.      Quicklime
5.      Cut stones e.g. marble and alabaster

Of main interest to me is the derivatives that can be used for Pharmaceutical and Chemical purposes. These are:

1.      GCC (Ground Calcium Carbonate)
2.      PCC (Precipitated Calcium Carbonate) - used in fine chemical and pharmaceutical products

GCC is used in the making of:

1.      Paper
2.      Polishes
3.      Paints
4.      Rubber
5.      Glass
6.      Cosmetics
7.      Plastics
8.      Adhesives

PCC is used in the making of:

1.      Calcium supplements
2.      Laboratory Grade Calcium Oxide and Calcium Carbonate

The Dr. Conrad Douglas study shows that over the past five (5) years, Canada, United States and Mexico:

1.      Imported US$7.3 billion of limestone products 
2.      Exported US$4.4 billion of limestone products

Jamaica has the capacity to export limestone to Central, South and North America. We already export US$140 million in limestone aggregate to CARICOM and the Americas in the last five years.

Ironically, during that period, we imported some US$11.8 million of the limestone derivative quicklime. Thus, increased limestone mining can displace local demand and reduce foreign exchange outflows.

We could also compete with suppliers of GCC and PCC, easily competing and displacing them out of a market worth some US$371 million during that five year period.

So why is this a big problem?

History of the Rio Bueno - Why this is basically Mining in the Cockpit country

This is where it gets bad, as clearly NEPA slipped up! Either that, or these anonymous partners may be themselves politicians or wealthy people with some seriously good political connections!!!

Between 2001 and 2007, sections of Rio Bueno was mined by Argentine engineering and construction company Jose Cartellone Construcciones Civiles SA. The Queens Highway leg of the North Coast Highway  was constructed with 2 million tonnes of limestone from the site.

Five (5) years later, Diamond Property Development Company applied to the Ministry of Energy and Mining. They were seeking to renew quarrying on Puerto Bueno Mountain, located between Rio Bueno and Discovery Bay.

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The proposal was challenged by residents and environmentalists. The 450-acre mountain area, which was owned by Diamond Property Development Company, was recommended for protection by scientists since 1969 as one of the few remaining dry limestone forests in the Caribbean.

Environmental interests working to protect the area, have made the following claims:

1.      The site is in the same condition it did when Columbus dropped anchor off Jamaica in 1494
2.      The forest and rare and threatened species that inhabited it, would be destroyed by quarrying

Mining the Cockpit country is illegal. The benefits of limestone extraction might be great, but the damage that will be done to the environment will be inherited by future generations long after Jamaica World and EPSA have made their billions.

Jamaicans, please share this as we have to stop the Government of Jamaica from selling out our right to foreigners!!

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