Ever wondered what it's like underground at a Sask. potash mine? Here's a look down under
Saskatchewan fertilizer giant Nutrien gives a rare tour of its underground Cory potash mine near Saskatoon
Saskatchewan fertilizer giant Nutrien gave a rare tour of its underground Cory potash mine earlier this week.
The mine, located about 20 kilometres west of Saskatoon, is expected to produce about a million tonnes of potash this year.
Production of red potash resumed in January following a period of slowed-down production and layoffs. The mine also produces white variants of the soil fertilizer and currently employs about 375 people.
The potash is mined entirely underground, via a series of tunnels measuring more than 60 kilometres.
An elevator shaft, plunging about one kilometre underground, provides initial access to the tunnels.
Workers like underground mine superintendent Mike Kleiter tug on hanging straps to open the doors leading to each section of tunnel.
Workers get around in canopied jeeps or longer "armadillo" transport vehicles. Drivers are cautioned against driving more than 40 kilometres an hour.
As there's only one elevator to the underground, it took about a half hour to drive to "Miner 25," a potash-mining piece of machinery worth about $7 million.
This is what it sounds like when turned on.
This is what a $7 million piece of potash mining equipment looks and sounds like. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/yxe?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#yxe</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/saskatoon?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#saskatoon</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/skpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#skpoli</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/potash?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#potash</a> <a href="https://t.co/b1xDrRQhL5">pic.twitter.com/b1xDrRQhL5</a>—@gqinsk
The machine leaves this transfixing pattern on the cave wall.
Workers also use an infinitely cheaper steel rod to prod loose chunks of clay and potash from the tunnel ceiling.
It's hot down there. The average temperature is 28 C, according to Kleiter. Hence the fans.
Touring media groups were also shown one of the "refuge" sites where workers are taken in the event of a fire. The area is sealed against smoke. The Hilton, it ain't: just some camp chairs, cases of bottled water and a garbage. Workers do have internet access throughout the mine's underground workings, however, thanks to a fibre-optic cable.
Each worker's headlamp is equipped with an electronic RFID (radio-frequency identification) so that Nutrien can track the movement of each and every person. Eventually, this status board will become electronic, too.
After the potash is milled, it's deposited in one of two giant warehouses.
Then it's loaded into the top of a train car, headed to parts unknown.