Original Published on Jun 29, 2022 at 13:53
By Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A new phase is complete in the startup of Manitoba’s first potash mine.
The Potash and Agri-Development Corporation of Manitoba (PADCOM) announced last Friday that the critical step of connecting the project’s wells, where the potash will be extracted, was complete.
The next steps for the project are already underway, and an air of excitement is palpable among PADCOM and citizens of the Municipality of Russell-Binscarth.
PADCOM president Daymon Guillas said he is very proud of the project, which isn’t nearly as big as the potash mines in Saskatchewan, but is very innovative, both in its environmental impact and how PADCOM plans to give back to the community.
“It’s promising in lots of ways. We want lots of investment to go back into quality of life and community development,” Guillas explained.
When it’s up and running, the mine will produce about 100,000 tonnes of potash. Guillas hopes this will grow quickly to 250,000 tonnes and more.
As the production grows, so too will the investment in the community. Initially, around 17 to 25 local jobs will be created. The province will receive a royalty payment of around $4,000 a month, which Guillas said could grow to between $3 million and $4 million a month. Manitoba Hydro will likely receive around $4,000 a month from the mine’s operating costs.
All of this is due to the fact that the mine will be run by local ownership rather than multinational corporations. Guillas said that 11 per cent of the mine’s net profit will be given in social royalties to Gambler First Nation, Waywayseecappo First Nation, Birdtail Sioux First Nation, Treaty 2 Territory, Treaty 1 Territory and the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF). An extra four per cent will be set aside for an economic development fund PADCOM plans to establish for the Russell-Binscarth area, called the In Power Economic Development Fund.
“When a multinational comes in and creates jobs and builds, that’s good. We appreciate it … but the real wealth is resource extraction and selling, and that profit leaves the province with multinational corporations. This is a better way of doing things,” Guillas said. “We can do it just a little bit better by forcing companies to leave a [percentage] of their net profits to drive the economy and help people.”
Another thing PADCOM had to consider when setting up the project was the impact the mine would have on the environment. Harvey Haugan, the CEO of Beechy Potash Products Corp. (BPPC), has worked closely with the company to make the Manitoba mine the first no-emission potash mine in the world.
A typical underground potash mine produces about 600 to 1,000 pounds of carbon for every tonne of potash that gets produced. With BPPC’s innovative new technology, that number will be closer to 21 to 36 ounces of carbon per tonne, Guillas said. While a typical mine uses anywhere from 400 to 1,000 gallons of water per tonne, the new mine will use 130.
This is possible due to what’s called selective solution mining. Haugan, who has 39 years of experience working in potash mining and production, said it’s important to keep salt underground and only remove potash. BPPC’s technology does this by bringing a hot, saturated brine out of the mine, cooling it and then removing crystallized potash. Then the brine is reheated and returned underground, so that the salt levels in the environment are unaltered and no piles of salt tailings are necessary.
Other potash mines actually bring the solid material to the surface, so this is unique and will be the first mine to make use of this technology.
“In the 1950s and ’60s, there were attempts to do this, but what we’ve done is study it further and conduct a lot of lab work and a lot of computer modelling. I think we’ve convinced ourselves now at least that we can bring only the potash to the surface.”
The mine is in the first phase right now, and is only using a boiler as a heating source. Once it shifts to using Manitoba Hydro to power the production’s heat pumps, the mine will be the first zero-carbon potash operation in the world.
It’s a method that’s not just important for the environment, but will also slash capital costs to about 10 per cent, Haugan explained.
Andy Klein, president of the Russell Chamber of Commerce, is excited for the mine to get up and running, saying it will bring many opportunities to the area. It also reflects on the town’s commitment to growth and development.
A lot of people from Russell actually commute to Saskatchewan to work in potash, so it’s also possibly an opportunity for them to find work closer to home, Klein said.
“It’s a great thing. I’m glad we’ve got movement on it. Generally speaking, we feel it’ll be positive in the long term.”
MMF President David Chartrand said he has been lobbying different provincial governments about getting a potash mine up and running in Manitoba for years. He started with former Progressive Conservative premier Gary Filmon, who held the province’s top job from 1988 to 1999. Then he moved on to lobbying former NDP premier Gary Doer, who was in office from 1999 to 2009.
What Chartrand wanted to happen all those years ago was for the companies who had claims to the land in Manitoba where potash was likely to be found to allow a Manitoba company to develop it.
Chartrand said healthy skepticism is necessary as the project moves forward regarding both PADCOM’s bold environmental claims.
“We are big supporters of environmental development. I believe the mine should be built in Manitoba, but at the end of the day, we have to make sure all the environmental regulations and insurances are in place to make sure we’re not going to destroy farms, animals and waters in the area,” Chartrand explained. “I haven’t seen a mine investment yet in this world that hasn’t affected the environment somehow, somewhere.”
The Brandon Sun reached out to Gambler First Nation, Birdtail Sioux First Nation and Waywayseecappo First Nation for comment on this story, but did not hear back before press time.
This item reprinted with permission from The Sun, Brandon, Manitoba