Anglo American is upping the ante at its Woodsmith polyhalite project in the UK, increasing its planned spend while expanding its production scope following detailed design reviews and non-critical path studies.
In the company’s 2022 results release today, it said these reviews and studies had led to a number of areas being modified to align with Anglo American’s standards and its aim to optimise value for the long term.
The outcome is an enhanced project configuration to ensure the company delivers maximum commercial returns from Woodsmith over the expected multi-decade asset life, Anglo said. Included within this is an increase in the capacity of the shafts and other infrastructure to accommodate higher production volumes and more efficient and scalable mining methods over time.
More specifically, this has seen the company plan for a circa-13 Mt/y operation instead of the previous 10 Mt/y operation it had endorsed, subject to studies and approval.
“In light of these changes, Anglo now expects first product to market in 2027, with an annual capital investment of around $1 billion,” the company said.
Spending of $800 million is approved for 2023, with the bulk of initial spend on the shaft sinking and tunnel boring activities. As usual in developing underground mines, the schedule will largely be determined by the ground conditions encountered as sinking activities progress.
The Woodsmith project is located on the North Yorkshire coast, just south of Whitby, where polyhalite ore will be extracted via 1.6-km-deep mine shafts and transported to Teesside via an underground conveyor belt in a 37 km tunnel, thereby minimising any environmental impact on the surface. It will then be granulated at a materials handling facility to produce a low carbon fertiliser – known as POLY4 – that will then be exported from its port facility, where it has priority access, to a network of customers around the world.
During 2022, as part of the mentioned construction review, contracts were awarded for the shaft sinking operations, program management services and construction management to ensure the project can be executed in line with Anglo American’s stringent requirements. These contracts were awarded to Redpath (shaft sinking) and Worley (program management services and construction management).
With the award of these contracts and other infrastructure improvements, activities at the deep shafts have progressed. The service shaft is now more than 360 m deep, while shaft sinking began 120 m below the surface for the production shaft in January 2023, as planned. Both of these shafts are being sunk using Herrenknecht’s Shaft Boring Roadheader technology.
Three intermediate shafts will provide both ventilation and additional access to the mineral transport system (MTS) tunnel. The Lockwood Beck intermediate access shaft was successfully completed in 2022 and is fully lined and connected to the tunnel. Work on the MTS shaft at the mine head progressed through 2022 and is 85% complete, and the excavation at the final intermediate access shaft at the Ladycross site commenced in early 2023.
Following a planned maintenance pause in mid-2022 to refurbish the tunnel boring machine and allow the connection with the Lockwood Beck shaft, the MTS tunnel is now past the 21-km point and is more than 56% complete, progressing at rates not seen since the start of the tunnelling activities, Anglo said.
Anglo American concluded: “We believe that the changes we have made to the project have had a materially positive impact on the project’s long-term attractiveness and prospects. However, for accounting purposes at this early stage of the project’s development, we have recognised an impairment of $1.7 billion to the carrying value of the asset within special items and remeasurements, reflecting the extension of the development schedule and capital budget.”