Saskatoon·Photos

Ever wondered what it's like underground at a Sask. potash mine? Here's a look down under

Saskatchewan fertilizer giant Nutrien gave a rare tour of its underground Cory potash mine near Saskatoon earlier this week.

Saskatchewan fertilizer giant Nutrien gives a rare tour of its underground Cory potash mine near Saskatoon

(Guy Quenneville/CBC)

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.

(Guy Quenneville/CBC)

The potash is mined entirely underground, via a series of tunnels measuring more than 60 kilometres.

(Guy Quenneville/CBC)

An elevator shaft, plunging about one kilometre underground, provides initial access to the tunnels.

(Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Workers like underground mine superintendent Mike Kleiter tug on hanging straps to open the doors leading to each section of tunnel.

(Guy Quenneville/CBC)
(Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Workers get around in canopied jeeps or longer "armadillo" transport vehicles. Drivers are cautioned against driving more than 40 kilometres an hour.

(Guy Quenneville/CBC)

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.

The machine leaves this transfixing pattern on the cave wall. 

(Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Workers also use an infinitely cheaper steel rod to prod loose chunks of clay and potash from the tunnel ceiling.

(Guy Quenneville/CBC)

It's hot down there. The average temperature is 28 C, according to Kleiter. Hence the fans.

(Guy Quenneville/CBC)

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. 

(Guy Quenneville/CBC)

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. 

(Guy Quenneville/CBC)

After the potash is milled, it's deposited in one of two giant warehouses. 

(Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Then it's loaded into the top of a train car, headed to parts unknown.

(Guy Quenneville/CBC)
(Guy Quenneville/CBC)

 

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

Story tips, ideas, complaints, just want to say 'Hi'? Write me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca