The Sultanate's mineral resources include chromite, dolomite, zinc, limestone, gypsum, silica, copper, gold, cobalt and iron, to name but a few. Several industries have grown up around them as part of the national development process which, in turn, have boosted the minerals sector's contribution to the nation's GDP as well as providing jobs for Omanis.
Copper has been mined in Oman for thousands of years. The mineral sector's operations include mining and quarrying. Several projects have recently been completed including: an economic feasibility study on silica ore in Wadi Buwa and Abutan in the Wusta Region, which confirmed that there were exploitable reserves of around 28 million tonnes at the two sites; a feasibility study on the production of magnesium metal from dolomite ore; a draft study on processing limestone derivatives; a project to produce geological maps of the Sharqiyah Region (Ibra); economic feasibility studies on the exploitation of gold and copper ores in the Ghaizeen area; a study on raw materials in the wilayats of Duqm and Sur for use in the Sultanate's cement industry; and a study on the construction of a new minerals laboratory in Ghala in the Governorate of Muscat
The sultanate produces copper, chromite, gold, and silver. Oman's main copper reserves are in the Suhar area on the Al Batinah coast. The processing of ore at the Suhar complex, operated by the government-owned Oman Mining Company, began in 1983. The production of chromite by the Oman Mining Company also began in 1983 in the Suhar area. Exports of the Oman Mining Company are primarily destined to the Far East market. In 1990 Taiwan accounted for 38.5 percent of exports, followed by Japan with 11.1 percent and South Korea with 2.9 percent.
In July 1991, the government established the Oman Chrome Company (OCC), in which it holds a 15 percent share. The remainder of the shares are held by the private sector. The OCC was created to develop the country's chromite reserves--estimated by the Robertson Group of Britain and the Bureau des Recherches Géologiques et Minières of France at 2 million tons of chromite-- at 600 sites throughout the country. The public offering of OCC shares reflects the government's official policy of encouraging private-sector participation in industry and manufacturing.
Limestone for cement production is mined in both the northern and the southern areas to supply the Oman Cement Company's plant in the Rusayl Industrial Estate near As Sib and the Raysut Cement Corporation's plant near Salalah. Tile and marble are also produced for local construction.
Surveys have indicated deposits of numerous other materials-- asbestos, coal, iron ore, lead, manganese, nickel, silver, and zinc. Large deposits of metal ores are located at the Sayh Hatat area (northeast of Izki) and the Al Jabal al Akhdar area. Substantial deposits of zinc and lead are known to exist in Dhofar, Jalan, and Hawshi Huqf (southwest of Al Ghabah). The feasibility of exploiting coal reserves at Al Kamil, near Sur, to replace oil in electric power generation, is being studied. A preliminary study on coal completed in 1990 by the UN Department of Technical Cooperation for Development estimates coal reserves in the sultanate at 122 million tons, a figure considered adequate for domestic use but not for export.
Oman's mining history dates back to pre-Islamic days when copper was mined and sent all over the world. The country was then known as Majan or the land of copper. Cut back to the present days and you will realise that the Sultanate of Oman is still sitting on a "gold-mine" of minerals. Despite the prices of commodities having gone down, private and public sector investments in this largely untapped non-hydrocarbon resource is expected to draw benefits for the country as a whole.
Some of Oman's main mineral resources include chromite, dolomite, zinc, limestone, gypsum, silicon, copper, gold, cobalt and iron. Several industries have grown up around them as part of the national development process which, in turn, have boosted the mineral sector's contribution to the nation's GDP as well as providing jobs for Omanis.
But for a country blessed with bountiful mineral wealth -- surpassing even that of its oil-rich partners, Oman progress in this direction is very slow. The focus remained on traditionally mined deposits -- marble, gypsum, limestone, industrial salt, chromites, gold, and building materials -- with little evidence that other veritable hoards would be tapped anytime soon.
The setting up of the Mineral Development of Oman (MDO) in March 2008, however, could prove to be the bedrock upon which the mineral sector could be firmly built upon. MDO has a range of partners, including private sector firms and the Directorate General of Minerals, to encourage and direct investments in industrial-grade mineral mining in the country. The Directorate General is a government body charged with ensuring the sustainable development of Oman's mineral resources, and its participation is indicative of the government's enthusiasm, and should ensure that it follows the diversification plans. MDO has brought a new dynamism to the mining sector, and has lost little time in bringing its weight to bear on the sector. On June 10, the group's first special purpose vehicle, Manar Carbonates was launched. Manar will produce ground calcium carbonates and precipitated carbonates from the Sultanate's ample limestone deposits.
Zawawi Minerals LLC (ZML) is incorporated in 2009; for developing the industrial minerals based "In Country Value (ICV) addition projects in Sultanate of Oman. Since its incorporation, ZML developed three strategic joint ventures in Sultanate of Oman with global leaders in their field resulting in diversified business portfolio that includes; Gypsum mining, Gypsum board manufacturing and Terrestrial Lidar & Conventional Survey.
Zawawi Gypsum LLC is a joint venture company between Zawawi Minerals LLC and USG Boral Building Products for Gypsum mining and processing in the Sultanate of Oman. Combined with the local and regional market knowledge, understanding and experience as well as local execution capability of Zawawi Minerals, Zawawi Gypsum LLC is in a unique position to deliver real value and growth. The company recently started operating a world class Gypsum mining and processing facility in Salalah, Oman.
USG Zawawi Drywall LLC SFZ's "Middle East's first SHEETROCK® brand gypsum board manufacturing plant" at Salalah Free Zone started commercial production in May 2015, the facility is equipped to manufacture a wide range of USG's universally recognised SHEETROCK gypsum boards. Bearing the prestigious SHEETROCK® brand of USG Corporation, one of the oldest gypsum board manufacturers in the United States, gypsum board from the Salalah facility will be marketed across the Gulf and Indian Subcontinent. The project adopted American environmental friendly manufacturing technology complying with all applicable national and international standards related to safety and environmental quality measures. The gypsum board products manufactured with innovative USG technology marketed as "Made in the Sultanate of Oman" branding, thereby enhancing the Omani industrial brand image in the international markets
Zawawi 3D Services LLC is a joint venture formed in the Sultanate of Oman between Zawawi Minerals LLC and 3D Engineering Surveys Ltd, United Kingdom. The purpose of this joint venture is to provide terrestrial LiDAR and conventional survey with a complete in-house workflow directed by Chartered Surveyors.
Importantly, the JVs with USG Boral exemplify the strength of investment and economic opportunities associated with the commercialization of Oman's vast mineral resources. With a combined investment of over $52 million, the two JVs represent the largest investment made by a private company to date in industrial mineral mining and value addition activities in the Sultanate. In addition to generating valuable foreign exchange earnings for the country, the projects will also enable the transfer of USG technology and skills to Oman.
The Mineral City will initially house three major minerals derivatives projects which will begin their operations within the next three years. These will be a magnesium-ferrosilicon project (estimated cost: $250 million); a 40,000-tonne capacity silicon carbide processing facility ($40 million); and a $450 million project for a salt/soda ash project.
The magnesium-ferrosilicon project will be developed in a joint venture with a foreign partner while the salt/soda ash project is planned in partnership with the Tata group, the Indian business conglomerate. Further, SNAM Abrasives of India along with Takamul will develop a 40,000-tonne capacity silicon carbide processing facility. Details of when and where this mineral city will become operational are still not available. Meanwhile, officials of the ministry of commerce and industry, which has a director general of minerals also remained tightlipped and have not divulged any details on what their role is in developing this Mineral City.
In 2007 export of mineral products was about $1.17 billion while the value of base metals and articles manufactured from base metals reached about $310 million. There was a significant increase in mineral production in 2007 as compared to 2006. Exports of chromium ores and concentrates increased by 634 percent to about $52 million; while that of copper ore went up by about 300 percent; gold also increased by about 140 percent; and sulfur by an estimated 25 percent. The significant increases of copper ore were attributed to a full year of production at the new copper mines of National Mining Co.
"While it is true that minerals will supplement the oil and gas revenues in Oman, we have to be really optimistic to feel buoyant about mines and minerals in Oman at this juncture because there is a steep drop in commodity prices all over the world. But it is a storm that we can hopefully weather," says Hafidh Soud Al Busaidi, CEO of National Mining Company (NMC), the copper mining in the Sultanate.
Established in 1998, NMC was able to realise actual revenues only in the last few years with its production reaching upto 60,000 tons of concentrate in 2008. The company, which has copper mines at Shinas and Hatta, has also found copper deposits at Ghuzayn. National Mining, part of the MB Holding Group, is planning to do more mineral exploration in other areas for copper, gold and other minerals as well. Presently, NMC produces around 180-200 tons per day of copper concentrate at its plant. This is equivalent to about 50 tons of pure copper per day.
According to Al-Busaidi, mining has a bright future and holds a lot of potential. But it is difficult to make profit at the present juncture due to the low commodity prices, he says while pointing out that mining is not for the "weak at heart."
"The government should differentiate between the serious and non-serious mining companies and support serious people like our company. Despite the drop in commodity prices and demand for our product, we have so far not laid off any people. There are nearly 300 Omani employees who are dependent upon us and we have a social responsibility towards them," underscores Al-Busaidi while talking about the present market conditions.
The setting up of Vale Oman, a subsidiary of Brazil-based Vale International, a new entrant into the mineral market of Oman has put the Sultanate firmly on the mineral map of the world. Vale Oman is constructing a pelletising plant in Sohar for production of 9 million tons per year of direct reduction pellets and a distribution centre with capacity to handle 40 million tons per year. The project is planned to kick start by the end of 2010. The total capital expenditure budget for Vale's project is $1.35 billion, with investments of $458 million for 2009. Representatives of Vale in an email statement say that since the port of Sohar is a deep water harbour and strategically located along the busy corridor of the shipping lanes, it matches with Vale's plans for growth.
The plant in Sohar is expected to be commissioned by the end of 2010. Officials are hopeful that the high-grade pellets from their Sohar plant will supply the direct reduction facilities of the steel industry in the Middle East, North Africa and other relevant markets.
Vale has signed a framework agreement with Oman Shipping Company (OSC) to lease four giant ships to transport the iron ore from the extraction areas in Brazil to their plant in Sohar Port. The agreement was signed during the visit of HE Ahmed bin Abdulnabi Macki Minister of National Economy & Deputy Chairman of the Financial Affairs & Energy Resources Council; and Maqbool bin Ali bin Sultan, Minister of Commerce and Industry and Chairman of Oman Oil company (OOC), in November. OSC will build four giant ships to transport the iron ore from Brazil to Vale's plant in Sohar.
Apart from the pelletising plant, Vale has employed a geologist to work in their Oman Office to do exploration work for minerals. He will be discussing with local authorities to make an agreement with them in order to better understand which minerals are available here and to prepare a master plan for potential development.
The growing demand for Oman's minerals has prompted many companies to float either subsidiaries or joint ventures for exploration and mining of the vast resources available in Oman. Dr V Rangaiah, general manager, Al Nebras International Services Co (NISCO), says that there is a lot of scope for local entrepreneurs to have joint ventures with foreign investors for excavating and exporting of minerals because Oman presently lacks the type of technology and skilled labour to launch big-time into the mining sector. NISCO is the marketing arm of the Al Amri Group which owns the Muscat Chromite Company.
Muscat Chromite produces over 50,000 million tons of chrome ore per month and NISCO markets this in India and China. The company achieved a turnover of nearly $20 million in the year gone by. NISCO also markets manganese, iron, lime stone and gypsum are other products from their partner mines in Iran. Oman's mineral resources could provide the second largest revenues, next to the oil and gas sector but the government has to be choosy in identifying companies and entrepreneurs who have the capacity and capability in this line, said Dr Rangaiah.
Since there is so much potential in the mineral industry, the government should also provide the required infrastructure and logistic support to develop this sector. A pressing need of the hour is a dedicated sea port for exporting minerals. This could be set up in the Batinah region as the existing ports are not equipped for mining operations, Dr Rangaiah said.
Value addition mechanisms like beneficiation and processing plants combined with sustainable mining leads to not only immediate economic benefits for the people but will bring in long term benefits.