The prospect of a new potash mine south of Yorkton had coffee shop and water cooler gatherings abuzz only a year or so ago.
It was fired initially by rumours of exploration in the area, and then galvanized as major international mining giant BHP Billiton began meeting with local City Councils in Yorkton and Melville to keep them abreast of a mine development project that if it were to move forward would have a dramatic impact in terms of growth in both communities.
The optimism of the time revolved around a strong potash sector which was enjoying huge returns and predicting strong growth in world demand moving forward.
Of course that optimism took a major hit as prices slumped, something which was keenly felt in this province as the Saskatchewan Party government had set its budget based upon potash revenue remaining constant at the high price levels.
The price dip quickly cooled enthusiasm for mine development which had rumours of new mines popping up in several areas of the province moving forward.
BP Billiton was leading the development expectations with an announced mine near Jansen, SK., and suggestions it would be followed by two additional mines, one expected in our area.
The plan might still be on the books for BHP Billiton, but it is a plan now stretched farther into the future.
BHP Billiton has stated it will still invest US$2.6 billion in the Jansen project, but will develop it at a slower pace than previously expected. The investment in Jansen will be spread over a number of years with completion of two mining shafts expected in 2016.
As recently as 18-24 months ago there was an expectation crews would be moving onto a mine in this area by 2016, if not earlier.
Now there seems to be no date for when the East Central Saskatchewan project might launch.
The softening prices are not the only factor quieting talk.
BHP is not the only player in the market, and production capability is growing quickly at present.
Companies such as Mosaic and PotashCorp have not made the same headlines which come with new mine development, but they have been aggressive in expanding existing mines, and such expansion has increased the overall production capabilities of the Canadian potash sector.
And there is also another new mine project moving forward in the province too.
What is being billed as Saskatchewan’s first new potash mine in 40 years is taking shape and set to begin production in 2017. The head K+S Legacy mine project north of Buffalo Pound Lake has a $4-billion price tag further expands production capacity into a currently sluggish market.
While potash mines have life expectancies of a half century or more, meaning the mines being built today have a long pay back potential, but with billion dollar price tags expansion will be tempered in times of soft markets.
So while potash expansion is inevitable in Saskatchewan, the hope we had for a new mine stimulating our local economy now appears several years, or more, away from fruition.