Pre-feasibility study for Oman fertilizer project under way

Conrad Prabhu –
Pre-feasibility studies are under way aimed at assessing the viability of establishing a commercial-scale fertilizer project in the Sultanate utilising potentially substantive potash deposits in the Umm al Samim region of western Oman.
The project, involving a potential capital investment of around $300 million, is being spearheaded by Gulf Mining Group, one of Oman’s largest mining and mineral processing corporations.
In its sights is a deposit holding estimated reserves in excess of 40 million tonnes of potassium chloride, a key ingredient in the production of Sulphate of Potash (SOP) — a high quality potash fertilizer commonly used in the cultivation of high-value crops such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, tea, coffee and tobacco.
As a first step in the exploitation of this resource and its conversion into potash fertilizer, Gulf Mining Group has already applied for an exploration mining licence, which is “under final approval”, according to key officials of the privately owned company.
Studies conducted by Gulf Mining have uncovered evidence of prodigious quantities of potassium chloride contained in near surface brine in Umm al Samim not far from the Oman’s border with Saudi Arabia. Extraction is envisaged using hydro-geological pumping techniques.
The area is thought to be spread across a 3,200 sq km desert. Full analysis of data, resulting from brine sampling, pump testing and porosity trials, is being progressed with the goal to obtain, among other certifications, JORC certification, based on the Australasian Code for Reporting of Exploration Results, Mineral Resources and Ore Reserves.
Provisional plans drawn up by Gulf Mining Group envisage a fertiliser production plant of an initial capacity of 500,000 tonnes per annum (tpa), ramping up to one million tpa in the future. Pilot production is planned as early as in 2018 with commercial scale production targeted by 2020. Capital investment in the venture is estimated in the range of $300 – 500 million, according to the promoters.
Importantly, the project has significant In-Country Value (ICV) generation potential, says Gulf Mining Group. Sulphur, large quantities of which are produced in the Sultanate but predominantly exported without value addition, is seen as a key potential resource for the project.
Additionally, an estimated 500 direct jobs and in excess of 1,000 indirect opportunities will be created when the venture is operational. Business opportunities for local SMEs are also promising during the construction and operational phases.
When operational, the project’s potash-based fertiliser will not only substitute imports of this commodity, but the vast proportion of the output is destined for export markets, thereby earning foreign revenues for the economy, according to the company.