Russians keen on mining Saskatchewan potash deposit

A $3.5B investment by a Saskatoon-based subsidiary of Russian potash giant JSC Acron could lead to a new solution mine near Regina.

A Russian fertilizer giant has its eye on potash deposits, underneath fields near the town of Sedley. 

JSC Acron and its Saskatoon-based subsidiary, North Atlantic Potash, have partnered with Rio Tinto to explore the feasibility of a new potash mine southeast of Saskatchewan's capital city.

Russian billionaire Vladimir Kunitsky controls the fertilizer conglomerate.

Rio Tinto has described the potash deep underground in the joint venture property as a "tier one" deposit. Over the past decade, it's found only seven other mineral deposits on the planet as rich.

"It's a very large deposit," said North Atlantic Potash CEO David Waugh.

"World-class" find

North Atlantic's Russian parent company, the Acron Group, has described the Sedley find as "world-class", with "very favourable operating costs."

Employees in Saskatchewan say water temperatures near the potash deposits near Sedley make the site ideal for a solution mine, similar to Mosaic's Belle Plain operation west of Regina. 

We think the market's going to improve in potash- David Waugh, CEO, North Atlantic Potash

"The water you pump down to dissolve the potash has to be at a certain temperature," said Waugh. He said the natural warmth of the water at the joint venture site would eliminate the need for natural gas, to heat water injected into the mineral deposits.

Although any mine construction would be at least two to three years away, Waugh estimated said there would be enough of the fertilizer ingredient to sustain a mine near Sedley "for decades".

"We think the market's going to improve in potash," said Waugh.

Currently, analysts say potash prices are in a slump, trading at roughly $300/tonne. Most companies say they look for prices of closer to $500/tonne to cover the cost of building a new mine.

Russian trade questions

Last week, Saskatchewan's premier mulled the possibility of banning Russian-produced vodka. On Monday, Brad Wall said the province will not pull the vodka from liquor store shelves.

He suggested consumers could choose to buy a Ukranian vodka known as Slava from SLGA stores, instead of the Russian-made product Russian Standard Vodka.

Wall said the province would leave trade policy to the federal government.