Sirius Minerals and the imminent global shortage of potash

One of the usual claims from the wilder shores of the environmental movement is that the world is about to run out of potash. This would be a problem, if true, because that’s the way that we get water soluble potassium into the soil so that we can grow plants to feed us all. The alternative is to try organic farming, using manure, and also ploughing up all the land we currently leave nature to thrive in.

As we’ve discussed before the claim is nonsense in itself. Because the measurements are being used are those of “mineral reserves”, the definition of which is “here’s what we prepared earlier for us to use in the near future”. What mineral reserves aren’t is “here’s all that we can use”. The most obvious point about this being that our using up, in the near future, what we’ve prepared for us to use in the near future is not a great surprise nor even problem. We can just go and prepare some more for us to use in the next near future.

Which is, in fact, largely what the mining industry does. The digging the stuff out of the ground isn’t the point of it at all. The identifying and preparing the next bolus we’re to dig up is.

Which brings is to Sirius Minerals. This is an attempt to dig up the world’s largest deposit - identified and tested so far of course - of polyhalite. A source of that potassium to be used as with potash.

Thousands of retail investors risk losing their money in Sirius Minerals after it admitted its plan to build a fertiliser mine in Yorkshire was on the brink of collapse and the Government appeared to rule out a rescue.

The FTSE 250 company warned that it had been unable to sell a $500m (£400m) junk bond it needed to unlock $2.5bn in debt financing from JPMorgan, throwing the future of its ambitious scheme to mine under the North York Moors into doubt.

That it’s not possible - so far - to finance such a mine shows that there’s no imminent shortage of what the mine would produce, doesn’t it? Or at least that one of the two beliefs has to be wrong. It cannot be true both that we face an imminent shortage which will end our way of life and also that it’s not possible to finance a method of ending the shortage.

Given that around here we do actually know something about mining it’s the imminent shortage bit that is wrong.