BORING OUT

Oman 2014 | INDUSTRY & MINING | REVIEW: MINING

The Omani mining sector is set for growth as the government aims to move up the value chain in production, map out its vast resources, and allow private exploitation.

Although oil is one of the key minerals to come out of Oman, it also has a vast range of other natural resources that are in high demand. In the northern territory of the Sultanate just 100 kilometers from the Gulf and Strait of Hormuz runs the Al Hajar mountain range, which stretches for 700 kilometers, and which at 150 kilometers in width reaches all the way to the UAE. The range is known to possess substantial amounts of ophiolites, which have the potential to host copper, nickel, chromite, iron ore, gold, and silver. The government is looking to explore and map the volume of minerals that Oman has with an eye on future exploitation, and with licenses being offered from January 2014 onward.

MARBLE

Oman is one of the major producers of marble in the world, and currently 70% of mined marble is exported. The International Marble Company (IMC) was set up in 1999 after a geographical survey completed by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. It is the premier marble company in Oman and also a leading exporter. “We are currently exporting our materials to 52 countries through our network of agents worldwide," Sheikh Ali Bin Hamed Al Kalbani, Chairman of IMC told TBY in an interview. The IMC is one of the few marble companies in the world to receive ISO 9001-Quality Management System certification, and the first company in the GCC to hold ISO 14001-Environmental Management System certification. According to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Oman mined 931,409 tons of marble in 2011 with a value of OMR11.7 million ($30.42 million), marking a considerable rise on the 695,077 tons of the year before worth OMR9.8 million ($25.48 million). Such is the level of growth that IMC is planning to expand its operations. “We are…looking for more mines, which we predict could be located near Ibri. We have already begun work on a new quarry about 10 kilometers from our current site," Al Kalbani went on to explain.

CHROMITE

Another potential growth spot in the Omani mining sector is chromite, as the government has embarked on the next phase of exploration efforts. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry believes there to be at least 79 sites with rich deposits awaiting exploitation. The district of Sohar is expected to hold around 1.6 million tons of minerals, while the district of Sharqiyah and the central Samad al-Shan holds 1 million tons at a purity level of 40%. There have also been developments in the processing of chromite as four ferrochrome smelters at various stages of completion have been set up in the Sohar Free Zone, attracting an investment of around OMR100 million ($260 million). Once all four are completed this will give the zone an annual production of 500,000 tons of ferrochrome and add significantly to the value-added production of the Sultanate.

RARE EARTH

In another effort to move up the value chain, Canadian-based Medallion Resources hopes to open a monazite plant in Duqm. In June 2013, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Medallion and Takamul Investment Company, a subsidiary of state-owned Oman Oil Company, was announced with the aim of assessing the possibilities of such a venture. The goal is to build a state-of-the-art extraction plant with an annual production of 10,000 tons of rare earth oxides.