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Over time, a freezing process was developed, allowing mining contractors to sink reinforced concrete walled shafts down through the Blairmore, making the extraction process more efficient.

The Potash Industry Today At one point in time, if you wanted to find your own potash deposit all you had to do was set up your drill rig almost anywhere in southwestern Saskatchewan (think Regina and Saskatoon) and bore down vertically into the underlying sediments. Chances were, you’d hit some potash in your drill cuttings, and if the potash was thick enough and of good quality, you’d be in business. Then all you had to do was find a buyer, set up a contract to sell the buyer your potash, and voila, you were rich. It was almost that easy. With 75 billion tonnes of potash reserves, Saskatchewan currently possesses 50% of the world’s known reserves of this important commodity. However, if you want to jump on the potash gravy train now, you’d better hurry, because the land is getting all staked up. There are other people who already have their mines in production, prospectors who got rich when the market was up. As I write in May 2014, the market is down from its amazing high of $1,150 a tonne in 2008, to just above $300 a tonne. The market could certainly rebound some time in the not-too-distant future, as the commodity’s reduced value right now is largely a result of the actions of major players on the global market. In July 2013, a Russian company called Uralkali, the world’s biggest potash producer, pulled out of the Belarusian Potash Company (BPC). BPC, a business partnership between Uralkali and Belaruskali, the Belarusian state-owned potash company, had a huge influence on the global market, controlling nearly half of global exports. When Uralkali left the BPC partnership, it announced plans to boost output and increase market share. This caused widespread concern that Uralkali would flood the potash market with their product. The result was a drastic price drop around the world. In December 2013, Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Inc, Canada’s largest potash producer, announced that it was cutting its workforce by 18 per cent, including more than 1,000 Saskatchewan employees. This was a painful reminder of how changes in the global potash industry impact the Saskatchewan economy—for better or for worse.

Saskatchewan’s Potash Deposits Saskatchewan is the second largest potash producer in the world, with 10 mines in operation today. Saskatchewan’s vast potash deposit lies deep below the surface. According to the Saskatchewan Mining Association, the deposit lies diagonally across the southern plains of Saskatchewan, gently sloping southerly from a 1,000 metre depth along a northwest line through Rocanville, Esterhazy and Saskatoon to more than a 1,600 metre depth at Belle Plaine. In northeastern Montana and North Dakota, potash deposits reach depths of up to 3,000 metres. Some potash extraction in Saskatchewan is by underground mining at depths between 1,000 to 3,000 metres and some production is by solution mining. In 1996, Sylvite (potash) was proclaimed Saskatchewan’s Mineral Emblem.

The Business of Prairie Gold In 2013, global potash demand was at approximately 53 million metric tons (Kiril Mugerman, March 2014 interview, Resource Investing News). The potash business consists of eight main producers in several countries around the world. Yearly production is around 30 million tonnes. In 2008, Canada made up 35 per cent of the global potash capacity. Saskatchewan’s production of minerals is in the many billions of dollars, largely due to potash. From 2003 to 2012, mining contributed $71 billion to Canadian governments from taxes, royalties and income taxes (corporate and personal).

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Cottage North July-August 2014  

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