A new underground mining operation has been given the go-ahead in Highland Perthshire.
Barite is a vital resource for the oil and gas industry and is also used in medicine and engineering.
The new Scottish mine, near Aberfeldy, could yield 7.5 million tonnes of the mineral over its operational lifetime – enough to meet the UK’s needs for half a century.
The development, at Duntanlich, will replace an existing mine at Foss that has been in use since 1985.
The Duntanlich site has the UK’s only known deposit of the material that is financially viable to mine.
Estimates suggest the new operation will bring in around £10 million a year to the Scottish economy, based on annual production of up to 120,000 tonnes of barite.
The operator, oilfield services company M-I SWACO, has said the mine will only be minimally visible from the surrounding countryside and will not be seen from the popular Queen’s View beauty spot.
It will have a significantly smaller surface footprint than its Foss predecessor, with almost all of its workings below ground.
The move comes after approval was granted by planners at Perth & Kinross Council.
Bosses at M-I SWACO say the development will provide skilled jobs for around 30 local people, as well as employment opportunities for suppliers and contractors.
Proposals for the new mine are the result of three years of environmental studies following the refusal of an earlier planning application in 1996.
Plans have been redrawn to address concerns over visual impact and effects on the local road network.
The site access, taken from the A827 close to the A9 Ballinluig junction, will remove existing Foss mine traffic from villages in the Tay valley. Ian Hughes, project manager for M-I SWACO, said: “We are clearly pleased that the committee has minded to grant our planning application, subject to conditions, and would like to thank those who supported us throughout this process.
“The new mine will ensure that the UK is self-sufficient in barite and will not only have a significant positive local economic impact, diversifying the economy of this rural area where employment is largely reliant on tourism and forestry, but will also have national significance in terms of providing vital continuity of supply for the North Sea oil and gas industry.
“We learnt a lot from the previous application and were able to make significant improvements to our proposals.”
Barite is a mineral composed of barium sulfate and is the main ore of the element barium.
When crushed, it is added to mud and poured into oil wells as a weighting agent during drilling.
It is also a component in the manufacture of paper and rubber.
Because of its density, barite plays an important part in radiology, being used to create walls and screens that insulate against x-rays and as a highlighting agent during scans of the digestive system.
The Foss barite deposit has a complex, folded geological structure that has made it increasingly difficult to mine in recent years.
The seam at Duntanlich is much simpler, like a big slab, and so easier to extract.
Estimates suggest the reserve is sufficient to supply the whole of the UK’s requirements for 50 years at planned production rates.
The site is due to open early next year but production will not begin for up to two years, once preparation work is completed.