Saskatoon

The little potash mine that could clears a key environmental hurdle

Gensource Potash Corp.'s proposed mine near Eyebrow, Sask., doesn't need an environmental assessment but still needs its project financing and construction permits.

Sask. gov't says proposed Gensource Potash Corp. mine near Eyebrow doesn't need environmental assessment

Gensource Potash Corp.'s Vanguard One project, pictured here at an earlier exploration stage, would create 48 full-time jobs. The company hopes to open it in late 2020. (Gensource Potash Corp. )

A proposed potash mine in south-central Saskatchewan has just cleared a major hurdle on its path to late-2020 production.

The province's Ministry of Environment ruled earlier this month that Gensource Potash Corp.'s Vanguard One potash development doesn't need an environmental assessment.

The project, located about 150 km northwest of Regina, near the village of Eyebrow, will therefore skip most of the steps outlined in the lengthy process chart pictured below.

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"It's a significant occurrence for us, for any project," said Mike Ferguson, the president and CEO of Saskatoon-based Gensource.

"Up to now, all potash projects done under a reasonably current environmental assessment legislation have all immediately and kinda by default gone to a full [environmental assessment]. That's fully expected by anyone undertaking a project."

Ferguson credits Vanguard One's fast track to the project's relatively small footprint and unique potash extraction method.

Gensource is touting Vanguard One's small footprint relative to other mines. (Gensource Potash Corp. )

"The traditional methods of mining have brought all [the mixture of salt and potash] up [to surface], either by solution mining or physically digging it out," said Ferguson.

"The key for us is to not bring [the salt] to surface. So we don't have a byproduct to store because we don't create one. We're using a mining method called selective mining where we leave that salt down below in the ore zone."

Next steps

It's not all-clear for the project, however. Construction permits are still needed, not to mention $280 million in financing at a time when Nutrien, the province's largest potash producer, is laying off workers.

But Ferguson pointed to the recent signing of an off-take as a positive sign. That agreement is with a buyer who has agreed to buy all of the potash produced at Vanguard One for the first 10 years of the mine's life.

Michael Ferguson is Gensource's president and CEO. (Gensource Potash Corp. )

"It's not an industry where you can just show up with more tonnes and throw it on the market and have those tonnes be sold," he said. 

Though Vanguard One will produce only 250,000 tonnes of potash a year — compared to two million tonnes at the province's most-recently-opened potash mine — Ferguson says the absence of tailings ponds and the selective mining process at Vanguard One will make it relatively cheaper to produce potash there.

'That area really needs something': reeve

Michael Cavan, the reeve of the Rural Municipality of Eyebrow, which includes both Eyebrow (population: 119) and neighbouring Brownlee, said he had no concerns about the project's environmental impact and welcomed its economic prospects.

The mine will need 150 people during its two-year construction period and 48 during operations. Cavan hopes half of those operating positions get taken up by locals.  

With the recent closure of a grain elevator, "I think it will be excellent for the community" of retirees and farmers, said Cavan of the mine.

"That area really needs something to keep the communities alive," he said. 

The Saskatchewan government's environmental approval would need to be reexamined if Gensource doesn't start building the mine within the next two years. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

Story tips? guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

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