Saskatchewan-based PotashCorp’s potash and salt operation in New Brunswick is strategically and logistically very important to the company. Along with an impressive production capacity, its close proximity to the company’s Port of Saint John terminal enables it to take advantage of the shortest shipping times to the growing Latin American potash markets.
The division also plays a vital role in the New Brunswick economy. With 340 people employed in the underground mining operations, surface refinery and administration offices, and approximately 70 full-time contractor personnel, it is the largest employer in the Sussex area and one of the largest in the province.
So, when a new orebody was discovered near Picadilly, approximately 800 metres from the existing site, there was some cause for celebration. Plans for a new potash mine and expanded milling operation in the area comes as welcomed news to both the company and the New Brunswick community. The expansion is expected to more than double the annual potash production capacity, from 785,000 metric tonnes a year to an impressive two million tonnes, and increase salt production from 600,000 to approximately 800,000 tonnes a year.
The New Brunswick operations
Currently, the potash is mined underground at a depth of between 400 and 700 metres and is cut by continuous mining machines utilizing a cut-and-fill mining method, allowing for a high extraction ratio. “The operation is somewhat unique within the North American potash industry in that all of our tailings are stowed underground, and used as fill in the cut-and-fill operation,” explained PotashCorp’s New Brunswick division general manager Mark Fracchia. The potash is then transported via conveyor belt to a storage bin located at the main shaft and then hoisted to the surface for processing. The Sussex mill has an evaporator circuit that is used to recycle the excess brine water, alleviating the need for surface pond storage and disposal.
The rock salt is also extracted by continuous mining machines using a multi-level room-and-pillar method. It is then conveyed to storage, crushed and screened before being hoisted to surface storage facilities.
Approximately 95 per cent of the potash is shipped 70 kilometres by railcar to PotashCorp’s Port of Saint John terminal storage and shiploading facilities in preparation for export.
Fracchia stated that demand for both potash and salt have been very strong. The primary driver for fertilizer sales is related to the increased demand for food, fueled by population growth and dietary changes. The rising incomes and demand for high protein foods in China, India and other developing nations means increased global demand for potash-based fertilizer, especially in the face of decreases in arable land. The primary market for the potash produced at PotashCorp’s Sussex operation is Brazil, though it also ships to other South and Central American countries and to the Caribbean, as well as to the United States.
All of the salt produced at the Sussex operation is used for road salt. Approximately half of it stays in the province, where it is used by municipalities, and the other half is shipped down through the U.S. northeast. Fracchia explained that this market varies according to the weather and admited that a particularly harsh winter this past season translated into very high demand.