FRANKFURT The interim results of a German environmental regulator's probe into waste water discharge by K+S will keep the potash mining company in limbo, with hundreds of thousands of tonnes of potential potash production at risk.
Authorities in the city of Kassel, where K+S is headquartered, are working on a computer model to predict the impact on drinking water caused by K+S's facilities, and preliminary results from March this year pointed to unacceptably high salt levels, a spokesman for the regulator said.
But the predictive model was unreliable at the time and is still being worked on, the spokesman for Regierungspraesidium Kassel cautioned.
"It is everybody's goal" to refine the model and to decide whether K+S will receive a permit by the end of the year, when a preliminary approval scheme expires, he added.
Weekly magazine Der Spiegel first reported the interim study results.
The regulator has missed the initially expected November 2015 deadline to decide on whether to give K+S a permit to dispose of waste water via deep-well injection into porous layers of rock.
That has left discharge into the Werra river as the only option, where K+S already faces other restrictions.
Salty waste water emerges when potash ore is processed into fertilizer products.
Under a preliminary permit, K+S has been forced to suspend production intermittently at major mines. It said last month it could not yet foresee when permanent approval would be given.
That has dimmed its earnings prospects, with K+S warning at the time that full-year core profit would plunge by as much as three quarters, hurt also by weak global prices for potash.
A K+S spokesman said the company was still addressing questions from the regulator and it remained convinced its request for waste water discharge was fully approvable.
(Reporting by Ludwig Burger; Editing by Mark Potter)