When it comes to a distinct ‘footprint,” no other province can match Saskatchewan in terms of recognition. In fact, its arrow-like borders make it one of the more widely known provinces in the country and certainly the most prominent of the Prairie provinces.
Centred between Alberta and Manitoba in the heart of Canada’s “west,” Saskatchewan boasts 651,036 km2 of land and water and when it comes to mining, it’s the largest potash producer in the world and the second largest source of uranium on the planet.
Add gold and diamonds to that, plus base metals, clays, rare earth elements and the platinum group of metals, and the province is home to one of the more active mining areas in Canada.
With more than 30 operating mines in the province, Saskatchewan was rated the sixth-best mining investment jurisdiction in the world by the Fraser Institute in the international Annual Survey of Mining Companies 2011/2012 and, according to Natural Resources Canada, the value of mineral production in 2011 was approximately $9.2 billion (second highest in Canada) up from $7 billion in 2010 and $4.6 billion in 2009.
The province’s Ministry of the Economy also reported equally bullish numbers in 2011 by showing that Saskatchewan’s international exports increased by 24% to $29.6 billion and that more than one half (about $16.7 billion) was attributed to mining and oil & gas exports.
As mentioned at the outset, potash has largely been responsible for the province’s position on the world’s mining map and will continue to do so as potash miners continue their dramatic capacity expansion programs to existing and new mines under construction.
Exploration expenditures support these plans for further growth as the Ministry says that an estimated $293 million was spent looking for new deposits in 2011, with figures expected to reach $325 million in 2012.
It’s already known that Saskatchewan’s potash resources are among the largest in the world and without boasting, the province (by conservative estimates) is confident that it could meet the world’s demands at current levels for the next several hundred years.
From its 10 potash mines (eight underground, two solution), Saskatchewan increased its production by 13.9% to 10.4 million tonnes with a sales value of more than $8 million in 2011.
More figures from the Ministry of Economy show that because of the increasing global demand for its potash, the Saskatchewan industry is spending $13 billion to increase ‘brownfield’ production capacity by 90% by 2020.
To help ensure that the producers have buyers for their product, the potash industry has its own marketing company (Canoptex) in place to ‘promote’ Saskatchewan potash, specifically to foreign buyers.
In a recent overview of ‘mineral’ activity in the province, the Ministry said that about 45% of Saskatchewan’s potash exports go to the United States, while most of the remaining exports are sold to the Pacific Rim and Latin America.
And, typical of many other Canadian mineral exports, Asia continues to show significant growth potential for the product.
Inasmuch as potash leads the way in terms of most of the mining activity in the province, uranium (as mentioned earlier) isn’t far behind as mining companies continue to produce and develop more properties.
In fact, the province has ‘high expectations’ for more uranium discoveries thanks to increased exploration levels. About $955 million was spent on 150 projects from 2003 to 2011, resulting in many new discoveries, advanced exploration projects and naturally, the Cigar Lake Mine, the world’s second largest uranium deposit with grades that are supposedly 100 times the world average.
With production scheduled for this year, the Cigar Lake Mine is a “jet-boring” operation where the orebody is being frozen prior to mining to improve ground conditions, prevent water inflow and improve radiation protection.
The ore will be removed by a non-entry method jet-boring system that will be deployed within access tunnels being developed about 25 metres below the orebody.
Technically, “jet boring” involves the use of high-pressure water strong enough to carve out cavities in the orebody and then collecting the resulting ore slurry through a network of pipes. The Cigar Lake mining processing also involves backfilling the cavities in the orebody with concrete once the ore is removed.
Ore collected by the jet-boring system will be taken to underground grinding and thickening circuits and then pumped to the surface as slurry. Once on top, the ore will be loaded in special containers for truck transport for milling.
The Cigar Lake Mine is a huge undertaking that is expected to employ approximately 250 people permanently when the project is in full production.
As mentioned earlier, Saskatchewan is also home to a number of other minerals, including diamonds in the Fort a la Corne area where one of the world’s largest kimberlite fields (200 hectares) is located. The Star-Orion South Kimberlite project, for example, indicates potential for more than 34 million carats.
Gold, too, is being produced at four locations and Saskatchewan is also the third largest producer of coal in Canada with an estimated resource of 5.1 billion tonnes.
Saskatchewan’s physical shape makes it Canada’s most “distinct” province but within those straight borders lies one of the more diverse sources of minerals in Canada and as exploration and mining continues in the province, those minerals will also become the focus of the world.