Sask. government approves Yancoal potash mine environmental assessment

The government of Saskatchewan has approved an environmental assessment for a proposed potash mine near Southey, Sask., that would be owned by Yancoal from China.

Company from China must meet new conditions before final approval for project near Southey

A group of people who live in the area has spoken out against the mine project due to environmental concerns. (CBC)

The government of Saskatchewan has approved an environmental assessment for a proposed Yancoal potash mine near Southey, Sask.

The 3,000-page impact statement was prepared by the Chinese government-owned Yancoal. The statement, along with more than 800 submissions of public feedback, was reviewed by a Saskatchewan government panel. 

Yancoal's impact statement reviewed potential concerns, including local infrastructure, impact on ground water supply and air quality monitoring.

In order for the project to move forward, Yancoal must now meet a number of conditions, including creating a community involvement plan, forming a community advisory committee and committing to isolating the site from nearby waterways to "to ensure no off-site impacts to water quality," the government said in a news release. 

It also must work with the Rural Municipality of Longlaketon in planning and developing the mine.

Saskatchewan Environment Minister Herb Cox. (CBC)

On Tuesday, Environment Minister Herb Cox announced the conditional approval.

"All of the work done by our very creditable and experienced professionals, as well as the public comments we have received, have led us to be confident this is the right move to go forward," Cox said.

Cox added taxpayers will not have to foot the bill if something goes wrong at the Yancoal mine. 

"One of the conditions of this approval will be that they provide financial assurance to the provincial government so that no taxpayer from this province will be required to put any money into any cleanup for the decommissioning or reclamation when this project wraps up," he said.

Public opposition and support

Some members of the community around Southey have spoken out about the project, saying they're concerned about the environmental impact.

The proposed solution mine would use between 11 and 12 million cubic metres of water per year from the Buffalo Pound reservoir to dissolve the potash.

The company says water usage will reduce substantially after operations are stable, but didn't say when that would be. 

On the other hand, the group says some local business owners support the operation. MLA Glen Hart said in June that the majority of feedback he's gotten from residents has been in favour. 

The mine still hasn't been given full approval, but Yancoal can now seek out licenses and permits from the municipality and Water Security Agency. 

If the project goes forward successfully, it will be the fifth potash mine approved by the government in recent years.

'Ignored the concerns': Sask. NDP responds

NDP Environment critic Cathy Sproule.

In an emailed response, the Opposition NDP said it is asking the Sask. Party government to come clean about the conditions of the deal. NDP Environment critic Cathy Sproule said the government and the local MLA have ignored concerns from people in the area.

"After two significant pipeline leaks in as many weeks, Saskatchewan people are understandably concerned about the quality of assessment, inspection, and protection they can expect from the Sask. Party," Sproule said.

"Now, after wasting billions in surpluses and savings during the economic boom and watching jobs leave the province, the Sask. Party is desperate and have been sleep-walking toward this mine that could hand over control of the potash industry to a state-owned corporation from China."

Sproule also said the project could have an impact on jobs in the potash sector.

"Development is vital to the long-term success of the potash industry as well as the province's economy, but that it must be done in a way that protects our province and is most beneficial to the people of Saskatchewan," Sproule said. "As Brad Wall said himself, we need to 'protect, for future generations, the strategic interests of Saskatchewan.' Now he needs to put that talk into action."