Expansion underway at PotashCorp Rocanville

May 27, 2011 — The World-Spectator 

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2.8 billion dollars, 5.7 tonnes of ore and 12, 000 workers. It’s a project of huge proportion which will in turn create major production.

The PotashCorp mine in Rocanville is underway on its $2.8 billion expansion, and things are really starting to take shape. General Manager Steve Fortney is overseeing the project and says upon completion, the expansions will nearly double current production.

”Our current nameplate is 3.0 million tonnes and were going to 5.7 million tonnes . . . pretty much doubling capacity,” he says. The three-part expansion includes converting the existing service shaft into a second production shaft, the construction of a 500,000 tonne storage building at the current Rocanville site, and sinking a new service shaft at Scissors Creek site—15 kilometres from the current one. The construction at the Scissors Creek facility will bring the mine to a total of three shafts.

As the new shaft is being sunk, the service shaft at the current site is undergoing construction to become a second production shaft. This process requires the headframe to be doubled in height. When completed, it will stand at 347 feet and will be the tallest free standing structure in Saskatchewan.

The Scissors Creek shaft will be the new service shaft, and the other two at the Rocanville site with both function as production shafts, doubling the 1,280 tonnes of ore per hour that can be brought to the surface now. Construction on all the different elements is under way and Fortney says the mine is on track for scheduled completion in November 2013. Although things are going according to plan, he says there is still a lot of work to be done.

”We still have got a ways to go,” says Fortney. “They are having some challenges in the (new) shaft but they seem to have rectified that lately.”

The Scissors Creek shaft is currently sunk 197 metres deep, and still has more than 900 metres to go until it reaches its final depth of 1100 metres. The shaft sinking is a huge undertaking, and Fortney says that contractors are competing for workers with the appropriate skill set to do the job properly.

“There’s a lot of shaft sinking going on in the world so it’s very difficult to get experienced people at this stage of the game,” he says.

Workers are drilling into shale, which is a different material than many of them are used to working with.

”It’s not overly hard, but its difficult to drill because it powders and that when they go to drill through it,” says Fortney. “Most of the experience in sinking shafts comes from hard rock mines and this is a soft rock so they’re not that used to drilling through it.”

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In addition to sinking the new shaft, the construction of the storage facility is also well under way. The immense building stands at 1,225 feet long by 310 feet wide and 127 feet high at peak—almost double the size of a regulation football field. Upon completion, the facility will hold 500,000 tonnes of potash. While contractors are working day and night to advance the construction on the surface, employees are doing their share from underground.

The mine currently has five mining machines, and workers are assembling six more over the coming months. Two of those have already been completed, and a third is 80 per cent done. The machines, in a number of separate parts, are sent down into the mine where employees assemble them piece by piece. By the time the expansion is finished, there will be a total of eleven mining machines.

The expansion is affecting all areas of the mine and requires a major work force to complete the new initiatives. The project has brought in a number of construction contractors and Fortney says they are already employing more workers than they expected.

“We are at about 1,100 contractors right now, which is what we thought would be our maximum,” he says. “But we’re at it now so we don’t know what our maximum is going to be . . . probably 1,200 or 1,300.”

And the jobs don’t end at construction. The expansion has already created 100 new permanent positions with the mine and 180 more are to be filled, so once completed, the mine will offer 280 new permanent jobs. Fortney says PotashCorp Rocanville hasn’t had problems filling the spots.

“Entry-level positions for operators is where a lot of them start so we’ve got a big supply of entry-level people ready to fill the entry level positions,” he says. As far as electricians and other trades employees, Fortney says they are a bit harder to come by, so the mine is training them in-house.

“We are apprenticing about half of the people that we need for the trades positions so not there’s difficulty, but not an over supply either,” he says.

As PotashCorp Rocanville continues to hire permanent employees, they aren’t looking too far outside Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Many of the people applying are from the local area. “We’ve had far better luck with people who have ties to the area so that’s our preference,” says Fortney.

New capacity will be needed

PCS President Garth Moore recognizes that organizing all the new workers can be confusing, but he is happy with the progress of the expansion at PotashCorp Rocanville.

“There are so many people we have working, it’s hard to keep the balls in the air all the time,” he says. ”But Rocanville is pretty well on track and on budget so we think it’s going to be okay to be completed when we require it.”

The massive expansion comes at a crucial time when potash is a hot commodity around the world and Moore says the increased production is necessary to meet this rising demand.

“We think it’s required for the marketplace— we’re in the food business and in order to help the farmers meet the rising demand for food as the population grows, we think they’re going to require a lot more fertilizer,” he says. “It’s important that we’re ready to bring on the new production when they need it.”

And that need is going to be apparent in the near future. As the world population continues to increase, the demand for potash also goes up.

“World demand for potash is about 50 million tonnes a year,” says Fortney. “And if you consider that the world growth is about three per cent a year (that’s one and a half million tonnes change on just a three per cent growth) that means you need a Rocanville project completed every two years.”

”Putting that in perspective, if you look at all the expansions on the go and add in BHP, that’s not enough by the time they hit their production.”

As the demand for the precious resource continues to rise, potash mines need to produce their product in a much higher capacity. Moore recognizes the high demand and the necessity of expansion at not only the Rocanville mine, but also at a number of other PotashCorp mines around Canada.

“Right now we’ve been doing expansions at all our sites,” says Moore. “This is the second one at Rocanville, we’ve just commissioned an expansion at Cory which takes its capacity up to three million tonnes, were in the process of working on an expansion at Allen which takes it up to three million tonnes, we’ve finished an expansion at Lanigan which took it up to 3.8 million tones and were working on an expansion in New Brunswick which will take it up to two million tonnes.”

“So we’re working on expansions all over the place. And Rocanville was chosen for basically the biggest one because it’s got the nicest ore body.”

Expansion may not be the last

That high-grade ore is bringing a lot of revenue into not only the Rocanville mine, but also to the surrounding communities and the province itself.

“For every dollar we spend there’s an additional 1.8 dollars benefit in the province,” says Fortney.

With the revenue coming in, and so much growth and development happening in Saskatchewan, it is a very exciting time to be in the potash business.

“It’s almost unbelievable,” says Fortney. “Most of the potash industry is made from Saskatchewan people and we value our money so we don’t really part with it easily. Happy to be a part of the major expansion, Fortney knows it might not be the last project.

“We thought when we finished in 2005, we thought that was the last expansion,” he says.

Already 41 years in the making, PotashCorp Rocanville’s mine still has many years in its future. “The current mineral rights we have under license will do us about 50 years, but there’s more potash beyond that,” says Fortney.

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