Work underway on potash test caverns

North of Francis

Ongoing project development at CanPacific Potash’s proposed $4 billion mine north of Francis has CanPacific director of resource development Kent Carter’s glass “full.”

Work on moving earth at the site was scheduled to begin this past Tuesday (Oct. 13), Carter told the RM of Francis council at its Oct. 8 meeting, anticipating that component would take three weeks to complete.

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“So, you will see the berms, the ditches and then the gates will go up,” Carter said.

Aside from those tasked with physically moving the dirt, PCL Construction civil engineering manager Jeff Hagerty said at least one of his staff will be on site at all times to manage and ensure quality control.

“Our foreman will also do survey checks and quality control, and he’ll be active,” Hagerty said. “In all, I’d suspect there will be four guys and a couple of pieces of equipment out there.”

Carter said it would “look more like a drill site just from the road.”

“When you get closer to it, you’ll notice some differences, as we don’t usually put ditches around a drill site.”

Actual drilling of the planned injection and disposal test wells is not scheduled until January or February, though that timeframe could change, Carter said. The disposal well will come first, with the plan to drill that being from January to March 2021.

“That’s where my glass goes back to half-full as I don’t have that in writing yet,” Carter said. “That being said, the caveat I will put there is it could happen this year as well. It depends on our discussions ... what we decide to do.”

Carter said the work process starts with earthworks, drilling of wells and then construction of a pilot facility, which will be used to test extraction methods in hopes of finding efficiencies. Within two years from there, he added, it should be clear whether the mining efforts will proceed as planned.

“We’ll know right away if (the mining process) we want to do will work,” Carter said. “Once it goes well, that piques the interests of process engineers, and then they are going to want to know, ‘Well what if we do this?’, or ‘What if we do that?’, and those are the kind of answers we look for in a longer timeframe.”

The CanPacific potash project, also known as the Albany Project, is a joint venture of North Atlantic Potash and Rio Tinto Potash Management. When complete, potash will be mined using a solution mining process, injecting heated brine to dissolve salts and pump the solution to the surface, where salt and potash can be processed in evaporation ponds.

“We are trying to find a way to do this in a way that’s less capital intrinsic,” Carter said. “There was a story about this on Yahoo News on the process that K+S has gone through (at Bethune) and they went for a Belle Plaine style of development and used what is conventional solution mining. What they have seen is the capital intensity and the return on that has not been what they thought it would be. And to be frank, the potash price is not helping them at all. As the commodity price goes up, that can hide a lot of mistakes. We all make mistakes when we make these big projects. The larger the intensity of the project the mistakes become more glaring.”

Current potash prices are around $202 per tonne, down from about $265 at the start of the year.

Carter said a selective solution mining project, which will also leave more of the salt underground as opposed to on the surface, may be more effective.

“If you were to look at that, and drilled it again, using the selective process, you’d see a honeycomb of salt left behind and no potash,” Carter said. “That’s just gone. If you do it the way we would like to, you don’t import that salt to the surface.”

CanPacific Potash says approximately 329 million tonnes of potash could be mined in the area, a rich deposit with an estimated lifespan of 70 to 100 years.

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