Rocanville potash expansion makes it largest underground mine in world
1 Jun 2016
PotashCorp reaches new depths
Rocanville expansion makes it largest underground mine in world
The finishing touches are being put on PotashCorp Rocanville’s $3-billion expansion project, which will double its production capacity, making it one of the biggest underground mines — potash or otherwise — in the world, according to PotashCorp Rocanville’s general manger.
“Our planned production is about five million tonnes per year,’’ Larry Long told a Saskatchewan Mining Week breakfast here Tuesday. “Obviously, this will be dictated by potash markets, but it will be quite a change for us at Rocanville (located about 200 kilometres east of Regina near the Manitoba border). We typically did 2.5 million to 2.7 million tonnes per year, so this is a giant step up.’’
Long, a mining industry veteran from New Brunswick, said the eight-year expansion project presented many challenges and obstacles to overcome, including an “monster feature’’ — an unexpectedly large salt formation — which separated the new and existing potash ore bodies.
“We mined straight salt for over a year,’’ Long said, adding that 3-D seismic technology “doesn’t tell you what is salt and what is potash. There had to be a leap of faith that we were going to intersect that ore body on the other side.’’
Fortunately, the PotashCorp team was able to reach the ore body “and it worked out,’’ he told the mining week session hosted by the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Saskatchewan.
Starting in 2008, the expansion project employed thousands of construction workers and contractors, both underground and above ground, working on the installation of mining equipment and buildings. “We had up to 1,800 contractors on the site; that was our peak head count. But there was a long period where there were 1,500 (contractors), plus our own employees.’’
When completed, full-time employment will increase to 750, double the present workforce.
“It was a never-ending process. There’s so much that goes into one of these expansions that it’s hard to capture how busy a place it was for eight years and still is now,’’ Long added.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel. “We’ll wrap up in about November,” Long said. “That will give us a few months to commission the whole system.’’
Long said PotashCorp Rocanville will operate using two mills, the original mill at 1,100 tonnes per hour and the new mill at 1.300 tonnes per hour, when fully commissioned. “We’ll have more flexibility to do maintenance work, where we can keep production going … It’s a real competitive advantage.’’
More importantly, the new capacity will make Rocanville one of the largest underground potash mines in the world, if not the largest, when running at full capacity in early 2017.
“Certainly, if not the biggest underground potash mine, it will be (number) one or two in the world. But for underground mines period, it will certainly be one of the top underground operations in any commodity in the world,’’ Long said following his presentation.
Other facts about the Rocanville expansion project:
Installed enough conveyor belt to run from Rocanville to Yorkton (130 km);
Installed enough 25 kilovolt electrical cable to run from Rocanville to Moose Jaw (300 km);
At 107 metres high, the headframe is one of tallest structures in Saskatchewan and the world’s tallest steel headframe.
New stainless steel storage buildings can contain 500,000 tonnes of potash or several football fields.