Nfld. & Labrador

Salt of the worth: This company is sitting on a 350-million-year-old motherlode of rock salt

There's a big chunk of rock salt in western Newfoundland, and its worth could be golden for the company hoping to develop a mine that could run for decades. 

Good for fish, good for highways, says president

Pat Laracy, president of Vulcan Minerals and Red Moon Resources, says his company is sitting on a gold mine — of salt. (Francesca Swann/CBC)

There's a big chunk of rock salt in western Newfoundland, and its worth could be golden for the company hoping to develop a mine that could run for decades. 

Vulcan Minerals and subsidiary Red Moon Resources are sitting on nearly a billion tonnes of rock salt buried between Flat Bay and St. George's. 

Vulcan president Pat Laracy says the value of the 350-million-year-old salt is upwards of $50 per tonne.

The company came to own the deposit by happenstance, after stumbling into it while doing exploration drilling for petroleum.

"One of the targets that we drilled, based on some seismic data that we had, turned out to be salt and not a petroleum-bearing structure," Laracy told CBC Radio's On The Go. 

"At the time it was quite a disappointment. Subsequently we divested ourselves of the petroleum rights and we went back to that salt discovery and educated ourselves on the value of salt."

From kitchen tables to highways

Laracy said rock salt can be used for nearly anything, from table salt to agricultural purposes to road salt. The last is the largest potential market.

According to Laracy, eastern Canada and the eastern United States use about 40 million tonnes of road salt each year. He added that the demand for road salt is increasing each year as cities in North America continue to expand their highway infrastructure. 

These are different types of rock salt pulled from the Vulcan Minerals and Red Moon Resources salt deposit. (Francesca Swann/CBC)

All that salt has to come from somewhere. About 10 million tonnes of salt, Laracy said, is imported to North America annually from Chile, Morocco and Egypt. Roughly two years ago, a potash mine in Sussex, N.B. — likely his company's closest competition — shut down, taking with it a production of roughly 800,000 tonnes of salt.

"That is a very long haul to get salt to market. We feel because we're located in the centre of the market that we should have a competitive advantage, and be able to produce our salt at a very competitive price," he said. 

Laracy predicts his company's salt deposit can produce two million tonnes per year, with overall revenues of $100 million annually.

He added that the mine should employ about 200 to 250 for year-round production.

Mine could last for decades

While road salt will be the primary market, Laracy said table salt and "water softening" salt are other markets his company can break into. 

As of now Vulcan and Red Moon have spent several million dollars to outline just how large the salt deposit actually is, and are looking to raise more money to begin developing the mine.

What's more, Laracy said, mines such as these generally operate for a substantial amount of time.

"A modern mine, today, you would have to give it a life of at least 50 years," he said.

"So the economic benefit of that is immense."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Mike Moore

Journalist

Mike Moore is a journalist who works with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's.

With files from On The Go