Sam McEwan, the assistant deputy minister for lands, minerals and petroleum for the Department of Natural Resources, said the provincial government is finalizing a two- or three-year exploration agreement with an unnamed company following a request for proposals being issued last spring.
"I think the activity on the ground would be somewhat limited," he said.
The area, located between the Parleeville Road and Highway 121 near Apohaqui, was previously explored by British Petroleum Resources Canada in the 1980s and by International Minerals and Chemicals in the mid-90s, explained McEwan.
Both companies discovered potash deposits, but neither company decided to proceed with developing a mine, he said.
The known deposit — about 256 million tonnes — was considered relatively small and complex with other minerals not considered conducive to conventional mining, so other areas were developed first.
- PotashCorp's Cassidy Lake mine, near Norton, which closed in 1997 due to flooding
- PotashCorp's Penobsquis mine, near Sussex, which is also flooding and expected to close within a few years
- PotashCorp's Picadilly mine, which is currently under construction across the street from the Penobsquis mine and expected to open in 2014
"Now again, these [Millstream deposits] were looked at a number of years ago," McEwan said.
The actual deposit could be significantly larger than the known deposit, and current technology may be better able to handle what was once considered complex, he said.
The price of potash, which is used in fertilizer and agricultural products, has also gone up significantly, along with the demand.
"All those factors make it conducive I guess to have another look at it," he said.
In addition, there are very limited potash deposits, said McEwan. In Canada, there's really only Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. And the Millstream deposit is the only known deposit in New Brunswick that has not yet been developed.
"All they would really end up with at this stage would be an exploration licence," said McEwan.
It's unclear if, or when, the company would proceed with actually building a mine.
'I'm totally against it. Totally'
But Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup, whose Kings East riding includes the exploration area, has said it could create hundreds of jobs and have significant economic spinoffs.
Some area residents, however, are concerned about the possible environmental impacts.
"I’m totally against it. Totally," said Carol Milbury, who operates a 250-acre beef, turkey and emu farm and organic garden in the nearby community of Berwick.
'To lose water, I mean good water is hard to come by and once it's gone, it can't be replaced.'—Carol Milbury, organic farmer
About 60 residents in Penobsquis say they lost their well-water in 2004. Many of the residents say they lost their water after PotashCorp began seismic testing in the area for a new mine.
A group of those residents have taken their fight to the province's mining commissioner, in an attempt to receive compensation.
Milbury said she's watched the fight of the Penobsquis residents and feels "it's bad news."
"To have something like that happen here would be horrible," Milbury said.
"To lose water, I mean good water is hard to come by and once it's gone, it can't be replaced."
Although PotashCorp supplied water to the affected Penobsquis homes, Milbury said she wouldn't be able to use chlorinated tap water at her operation
"We grow everything naturally, organically. We don't use [any] pesticides, so we need clean water on there, nothing added to it."
McEwan said he realizes some residents have concerns, but he believes most of them were addressed during a public meeting in Berwick earlier this month.
"I could be wrong, but I guess my impression was that they were satisfied with where we were at the moment and what we have in place, certainly from a legislative perspective to deal with that," he said.
"We have very rigorous legislation when it comes to the development of mines in this province, especially with regards to the [environmental impact assessment]
and the Mining Act."