How Lead Mining Could Make A Comeback In The UK

How Lead Mining Could Make a Comeback in the UKThe UK's long-dormant lead industry could be on the verge of a revival thanks to a new project being undertaken by London-listed exploration and development firm Minco (LSE:MIO).

In November 2012, the company started a US$1-million, 4,000-meter exploration program in the North Pennine Orefield, a 40-by-35-kilometer area in the Northern English counties of Cumbria, Northumberland and Durham. The region hosts the largest area of zinc-lead mineralization in the country.

Minco also holds interests in projects in Ireland, Canada and Mexico. In 2011, it sold its 23.6-percent interest in the Pallas Green lead-zinc deposit in Ireland to its joint venture partner, Xstrata (LSE:XTA), for $19.4 million.

In the UK, Minco aims to use approaches it developed in Ireland to discover and outline zinc-lead deposits in the North Pennine Orefield. “We have been developing the geological theory behind this new exploration effort for several years,” said Minco's founding director and CEO, Terence McKillen, in a November 2 press release.

A short history of British lead mining

Lead mining has a long history in the UK, with small-scale operations dating back to Roman times. However, it was the Industrial Revolution, and the economic expansion that came with it, that turned lead mining into a thriving business. From 1750 to 1850, the country was the leading producer of the metal, which was in high demand for roofing, piping and other building materials, as well as paint bases and lead shot.

During that time, the North Pennine field was the heartland of the industry in the UK. Extraction methods were crude by today's standards, mainly consisting of bell pits or a technique called hushing, which involves damming streams and then releasing them into man-made trenches to remove peat and soil from areas where lead was thought to exist. Later, miners dug shafts into hillsides and hauled the ore out using horses.