Thursday 14th December 2017,
North Yorks Enquirer

The Wizard of “IF”

  • – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, reporting on the York Potash Proposals

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The recurrent topic of conversation over the last couple of weeks has been Sirius Minerals Plc and their much publicised venture to extract massive quantities of polyhalite (the word means ‘many salts’, in this case, potash) from beneath the North Yorkshire Moors National Park.

I had other plans for this week’s article, but I find I am now in receipt of requests to throw in my two-penn’orth on this fiercely contended issue.

In my view, it is vital that this issue is vigorously debated, because constructive debate has the power to refine every argument, sifting the true from the false, and the realities from the dreams and promises.

Real Whitby coverage of developments thus far has attracted a welter of comments from contributors with deeply entrenched (and fiercely opposing) views, both in favour of the Sirius proposals (I will refer to them collectively, for convenience, as the ‘Pro-Sirians’), and against (whom I will refer to, also for convenience, as the ‘Eco-Defenders’). Please feel free to replace these convenient appellations with others of your own choosing.

The Pro-Sirian argument may be briefly summarised thus:

·    the polyhalite extraction will create wealth in sufficient volume (and over a sufficiently protracted time-scale) to massively re-invigorate the local economy

·    the concomitant job-creation will extend a lifeline to the youth of the region

·    the conservation of the National Park, for posterity, will be rigorously safeguarded

·    there is no ‘down side’; the sceptics need have no cause for alarm

The Eco-Defenders’ concerns, though less stridently stated, are based on a more fundamental (and less materialistic) view, which may be briefly summarised thus:

·    the ecological integrity of the National Park is enshrined in law for very good reason

·    such a large-scale industrial development may prove to be ‘the thin end of the wedge’

·    no independent ecological or traffic impact studies have as yet been published

·    there is no clear avenue of redress, should the project in any sense fail

Of course, the issues run far deeper than this; I merely outline the ‘starting’ positions, which seem to be that the Eco-Defenders are short on facts but asking pertinent questions – for which, as yet, the Pro-Sirians have been able to provide only estimates, aspirations and promises, but few hard facts.

Personally, I am a long way from taking a position on this issue. I would, of course, welcome the prospect of long-term, well-remunerated, career-oriented employment – especially for the upcoming generation – as well as the accompanying return to a more balanced local economy, less weighted toward low-paid seasonal tourism-based jobs. That would be wonderful. Bring it on!

On the other hand, the enlightened desire to preserve the natural landscape and precious habitats of the National Park serves the interest of the entire nation, now and in perpetuity. Bring it on!

For me, the jury is still out. Or, rather, much of the evidence is still to be presented. So, at best, Sirius has only my conditional support. It has to be said, though, that whilst the Eco-Defenders have, in the absence of reliable information, drawn some unsubstantiated conclusions, the shrill, repetitive and defensive/aggressive postings of some of the Pro-Sirians have been really quite offensive (especially coming from one-issue posters who have hitherto made no contribution to Real Whitby), thereby bringing a measure of disgrace to themselves as well as risking discrediting what may well be a very fine and responsible company.

To conclude, “IF” seems to be at the heart of the matter.

IF – convincing independent core-samples were to hand,
IF – the long-term sustainability of the seam(s) were independently confirmed,
IF – an independent ecological-impact assessment were to prove favourable,
IF – an independent traffic-impact assessment were to prove favourable,
IF – a binding agreement on the number of local jobs were to be reached,
IF – adequate indemnification to cover the rehabilitation of the landscape in the event of insolvency were to be procured,

THEN, and only then, many would consider the case to have been made. Me too.

However, information from Burke County, North Dakota, where a once-trumpeted ‘strike’ by Sirius-subsidiary Dakota Salts LLC has now been reported as having been abandoned (allegedly leaving its 21,492 gross mineral acres site derelict for over a year), has been left un-addressed by the gung-ho Pro-Sirian commentators on a previous article here on Real Whitby. That is rather disturbing.

But beyond the war of words between the Pro-Sirians and the Eco-Defenders, one should be mindful of the colourful history of prospecting/mining stock-flotations in general – a ‘hype’ industry, and a cemetery for broken dreams. So here is a brief check-list, culled from the web, of some of the ‘hallmark’ warning signs that a stock ‘bubble’ may be being super-inflated, and someone is about to get rich – though that someone may not necessarily be you!

  • IF – estimates of the size and/or quality of the deposits are progressively revised upwards
  • IF – estimates of the sustainability of the deposits are progressively revised upwards
  • IF – estimates of national and local government support are progressively revised upwards
  • IF – test-rigs are situated in highly visible or brightly illuminated locations
  • IF – test-rig sites are rapidly re-landscaped following test-drilling
  • IF – the company is a wholly-owned domestic subsidiary of a larger international enterprise
  • IF – any or all of these indicants apply,

THEN it might be wisest to suspend judgement and wait until ALL of the evidence has been presented. For the moment, my advice would be to do your own research and invest only if you can afford to lose the whole of your intended stake. Investment is gambling.

Meanwhile, a healthy debate, without personal rancour, can only enhance the knowledge-base.

In my view, everyone has the right to hold an opinion, and the right to freely express it. Disagree, by all means, but do so politely, please – with respect and with dignity. Thank you.

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise”

(The opening stanza of “IF” by Rudyard Kipling – 1895)

http://www.scarborougheveningnews.co.uk/news/business/more-finds-of-potash-at-third-site-1-4388428

http://markets.ft.com/Research/Markets/Tearsheets/Summary?s=SXX:LSE

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