Manitoba looks to jump into potash industry, develop mine

The Manitoba government is hoping to develop a significant potash deposit in the western part of the province near Russell, Man.
A mountain of mined potash is seen in a holding facility belonging to Russia's Uralkali, the world's biggest potash producer. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

The Manitoba government is hoping to develop a significant potash deposit in the western part of the province near Russell, Man.

Chris Radford, Mayor of Russell, said having the potash industry present would be great for his community.

"Well this would be fantastic news for our area," said Radford. "It's something that obviously we've been looking forward to for a long time. There have been a lot of times that they have talked about this in the past and we certainly hope that this time things will be able to move forward."

The province-owned Manitoba Potash Corporation has acquired the rights to a vast deposit of the mineral, used as a key ingredient in fertilizer.

Manitoba's Minister of Mineral Resources Dave Chomiak said the province is ready to ask major players in the potash industry to do a feasibility study on developing a mine. (CBC)
It has bundled together the mineral rights to much of the potash in the province.

The next step will be to ask major players in the industry to do a feasibility study on developing a mine, said Manitoba's Minister of Mineral Resources Dave Chomiak

"We've gone to the market and asked people to look at it and see if they are interested in doing a feasibility, which if proved positive, would lead to a potash development," he said.

Chomiak said It could take up to a decade to develop a potash mine, but it could generate as many as 600 jobs and provide hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties for the province.

"We've seen the economic driver that a potash mine could be across the border at, you know, Esterhazy, [Sask.] and that area," said Mayor Radford. "We can see some real benefits to our local economy, to our provincial economy – even to Winnipeg’s economy."

Potash is currently selling at a relatively low price but China, India and the U.S. are significant consumers of the mineral and those markets are expected to grow.

"There is a lot of players in potash. We think this step — by consolidating the package and the parcel in Manitoba in one site — we think is an exciting first move," Chomiak said.

Friendly advice from Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan is the world's largest producer of potash and Manitoba's source of the mineral is essentially an extension of the Saskatchewan deposit.

The mayor of Esterhazy, Sask., said Russell needs to plan carefully if a mine in the area does become reality. Pauline Chewka said her town has had to sustain itself in all the boom and bust cycles that come with the fluctuating price of potash.

Russell should plan carefully for the infrastructure it needs — and can afford — if a potash mine is built nearby.

"You must be able to sustain whatever growth you had, so you don't want to build bigger or more than you're going to be able to sustain after the boom is gone," Chewka said, adding that Russell's town administrators must also be ready to face angry residents.

"Be prepared for your public not necessarily wanting to change. A lot of people live in these communities because they are the way they are and when they start growing and changing, people aren't necessarily as happy with that as you would have thought."