K+S Potash mine nears completion
- 22 Jun 2016
- The StarPhoenix
- BRUCE JOHNSTONE email@example.com
Sask.’s first new potash mine in 40 years nears finish line
If building a potash mine was like a horse race, K+S’s Legacy project would be entering the home stretch.
The $4.1-billion solution potash mine remains on time and on budget to begin production at the end of this year and full commercial production of two million tonnes per year by late 2017.
“We will produce the first tonnes of potash at the end of this year,’’ K+S Canada Potash president and CEO Ulrich Lamp told reporters Tuesday. “Then we will produce one million tonnes in 2017 and achieve our capacity of two million tonnes per year by the end of next year.’’
For Lamp, the project is the culmination of a long journey that began on a prairie field and a tent in 2012 when K+S first broke ground at the Legacy mine site, about 70 km northwest of Regina.
“For me, it’s unbelievable. When I was here the first time (at the groundbreaking in 2012) standing on this ground, there was nothing, (but) an old barn,’’ said Lamp, a nearly 30-year veteran of K+S and president and CEO of KSPC since 2012.
“You have to experience it to understand the challenges.”
To add to the challenge, the Legacy mine is K+S’s largest capital investment to date and the first “greenfield’’ potash mine to be built in Saskatchewan in more than 40 years.
“It’s easy to talk about greenfield (projects),’’ Lamp told reporters. “It sounds easy, but it’s the opposite.’’
“You’re starting with nothing. There’s no office there … there’s no engineers there. You have to start completely from scratch,’’ Lamp said.
“All the employees come from different companies, with different experience. They have nothing in common,’’ Lamp said, adding the company had to introduce the K+S corporate culture to about 350 fulltime staff, including the head office in Saskatoon and terminal facility at the Port of Vancouver near Port Moody.
“Currently we have more than 3,000 people on site in the construction phase and roughly 300 employees for the long run,’’ Lamp said. About 200 permanent employees were hired in the last year alone.
More than 300 First Nations and Metis are working with contractors on site and more than $300 million in contracts have been awarded to companies owned or partnered with aboriginal enterprises.
The project is now in the “precommissioning ’’ phase, with about 90 per cent of capital spent. The wellfield is in full operation, with six “pads’’ in cavern development and 20 pads reaching “cavern connection’’ or joining to form an underground cavern. These caverns, which are bigger than a football stadium, are where the potash-rich brine is located 1,500 metres below the surface.
Speaking of football stadiums, KSPC vice-president and general manager Sam Farris says the large storage facility will store 100,000 tonnes of potash in the 40-metre wide by 130-metre long building, roughly the size of a football stadium.
The roof of the storage building, one of two on site (the other will hold about 40,000 tonnes of industrial potash product) is constructed of wood and fabric to prevent corrosion from the salty potash.
Other interesting facts about the project are that roughly one million metres of cabling have been installed on site, about 160 wells will be drilled on the project site to inject water into the formations and produce briny potash slurry and 44 km of rail line will be built to transport the potash to market.
Of course, it’s fitting that K+S should be building the first new potash mine since the 1970s, since its predecessor company built the province’s last new mine, the Alwinsal mine (now PotashCorp Lanigan). When the mine was acquired (some would say nationalized) by government-owned Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan in 1976, the company left Saskatchewan with a bad taste in its mouth.
But K+S is back in Saskatchewan again with no hard feelings, Lamp says.
“It’s quite an achievement for our company and also a great thing for Saskatchewan,’’ Lamp said. “We believe in Canada, especially in Saskatchewan.’’