Mineral Extraction

Minerals, as currently classified in the Minerals Development Acts 1940 to 2017 (the Minerals Development Acts), include all substances in, on, or underground except:

  • the agricultural surface of the ground;
  • turf or peat; and
  • stone, sand, gravel or clay

In practice, this means most quarries producing aggregates for the construction industry, agricultural lime or dimension stone, e.g. for buildings or grave stones, are not working minerals and do not require any permits under the Minerals Development Acts. This applies to most aggregates except for a few listed minerals e.g. Roofing Slate, Connemara Marble, Silica Sand and Ball Clay. The most common minerals covered by the Acts and being mined or prospected for in Ireland are Zinc, Lead, Gold, Gypsum and Coal.

The Petroleum Minerals Development Act 1960 removed petroleum (oil and natural gas) from the scope of the Minerals Development Acts and created standalone regulations of petroleum exploration and development.

Mineral exploration, also known as ‘prospecting’, is the process of finding commercially viable concentrations of minerals to mine. Mining refers to the extraction (or working) of minerals. At the end of 2014, 639 Prospecting Licences were in force nationally.

Ireland’s mineral reserves

Ireland has a diversity of mineral deposits, with a mining history spanning over 4,000 years. See here for a brief overview of Ireland’s mining history.

The island of Ireland has a widely varied geological framework, with rocks ranging in age from Proterozoic (2,500 million years ago) to the present day (see image). The island can be divided into a number of mineral provinces endowed with a broad range of base and precious metals as well as industrial mineral deposits. Large parts of Ireland are covered by metasediments and metavolcanics of Proterozoic (2,500 years ago) and Lower Palaeozoic age (250 million years ago). These rocks are known to contain significant base metal mineralisation (e.g. copper at Avoca) and gold-bearing quartz veins. The latter style of mineralisation has been the focus of extensive exploration efforts in Northern Ireland, and in 1999, an opencast gold mine was opened at Cavanacaw in Co Tyrone. The Lower Carboniferous (360 million years ago) limestones of the Irish Midlands (the Central Ireland Basin) are host to one of the great orefields of the world.

Since the 1960s, Ireland has been a leading global producer of zinc, lead and barite ( Ireland ranked 11th and 16th in relation to zinc and lead mine output globally in 2017). Ireland currently accounts for a significant proportion of both European zinc mine output and European lead mine output. Fifteen significant zinc-lead deposits have been discovered in the last six decades, with six becoming producing mines. Ireland has been ranked first in the world in terms of zinc discovered per square kilometre, and second in the world with respect to lead. The country was also Europe's largest zinc producer, but has since dropped down to second place due to mine closures. Its two underground base metal mines accounted for some 31% of European zinc production in 2015, and they also provided 11% of its lead in that time. Ireland's younger rocks contain significant deposits of industrial minerals, most notably the gypsum deposit at [Knocknacran], Co Monaghan, that is found in an outlier of Permian rocks. Zinc, lead and gypsum are key components of the current Irish mining industry (Houses of the Oireachtas, 2015).

Two of the lead -zinc mines (Galmoy Mine in Co. Kilkenny in October 2012 and Lisheen Mine in Co. Tipperary in December 2015) have ceased production in recent years. Data from these two mines have become publicly available and can be found here. This has reduced European zinc output however, it still maintains significant status for zinc production in Europe, due to operations at the Boliden Tara Mines, the largest underground zinc mine in Europe. A recent report (2017) valued geoscience within Ireland to the amount of  3 billion euro in economic worth. Further details on the report can be found here. Details of current State Mining facilities can also be found here.

There are currently two operating mines in Ireland:

  1. Navan mine in Co. Meath (zinc-lead);
  2. Irish Gypsum’s operations near Knocknacran (open pit and underground) in Co Monaghan (gypsum).

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