ASHTABULA — The company proposing a nearly half billion dollar pig iron project for the harbor has been the subject of controversy over its coal mines in South Africa, but the issues should not affect the upcoming Ashtabula project.

Petmin, a South African company, is looking to build a plant at the Kinder Morgan Pinney Dock facility that could lead to several hundred construction jobs as well as more than 100 permanent, skilled jobs once complete. The company has received an Ohio EPA air permit for the project, but still has to obtain water pollution control permits prior to the start of construction.

Petmin delisted from the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in 2017, which resulted in protests according to foreign news reports. Protests of the company have been based both on its decision to delist as well as its desire to mine anthracite — a hard carbon form of coal — on the border of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, which is essential to the survival of the white rhino.

According to a Guardian article, “the Hluhluwe–iMfolozi, the oldest nature reserve in Africa, where hundreds of rhinos, antelope and big cats graze under the wondering gaze of tourists,” exists near a Petmin-owned mine where tens of thousands of people live in rudimentary conditions.

Activists in Somkhele went to court to shut the mine, or at least stop any expansion, the article states. Petmin officials said its operations were fully compliant with all legal requirements, and accused critics of being activists who hate mining, the Guardian article states.

Bradley Doig, president and CEO of Petmin USA, said the proposed Ashtabula plant won’t use anthracite or any other type of coal in its production process.

“The process uses natural gas,” Doig said. “Iron ore pellets are the primary raw material.”

Petmin’s anthracite operation is based in Kwazulu Natal in South Africa, Doig said. It currently produces approximately 1.2 million metric tons of anthracite per year, he said.

“Approximately 50 percent of our anthracite (our higher quality anthracite) is sold to South African-based FerroChrome Producers, with the balance exported to various parts of the world,” Doig said. “Approximately 15 percent of our energy product is sold to South African industrial users, with the balance exported to various parts of the globe for use in low-volatile power producers or cement manufacturing.”

The mine has sufficient reserves to operate at its current capacity for approximately 10 years with production from our future mining areas, Doig said. Additionally, Petmin is evaluating the possible acquisition of additional coal resources in South Africa to ensure longer-term supply to customers, he said.

Petmin delisted from the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in June 2017 following its acquisition by a consortium led by its management team and a South African based private equity investor Capital Works, Doig said.

“Given our strong cash generating asset base we were never required to raise equity capital on the stock exchange and as such maintaining a JSE listing did not make sense,” Doig said.

The case involving the activists was heard in 2018 and the judge found in Petmin’s favor, Doig said. The judge also awarded all legal costs to be paid by the activists, he said.

Petmin USA’s manufacturing facility in Ashtabula would produce an estimated 425,000 tons of pig iron annually that would then be shipped to the company’s customers.The company plans to break ground this year and it will take two years to build the plant, which could be operational as early as 2021.

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