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GeoVenture Blog

Potash Saskatchewan
2018 SMA GeoVenture Blog
August 19, 2018

Following is the 2018 SMA GeoVenture Blog August 19 - 24
Day 1 Orientation and Welcome BBQ, August 19, 2018

GeoVenture 2018 kicked off with an Orientation Workshop which included Introductions; Itinerary review; Curriculum Link Outline; Introduction to Rocks and Minerals; Overview of Saskatchewan Mining Industry; distribution of curriculum-related material.

The day finished off with a Drill and Grill dinner at Saskatoon Inn attended by SMA Board members.


Day 2 Potash - Solution (Mosaic Belle Plaine and Potash Interpretive Centre), August 20, 2018
By John Nicholson, St. Joseph High School, Saskatoon and Majak Mapiour, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon

We had a nice breakfast at the Saskatoon Inn and boarded the bus for the Mosaic potash mine at Belle Plaine. This mine is the largest solution mine in the world and produces more potash per year than the United States. It also generates its own electricity and consumes as much natural gas per year as the city of Moose Jaw. The 64 km2 mine site has about 1900 km of underground pipes that pump hot water down 1500 m to dissolve the potash. Belle Plaine mine consumes 19 000 L per minute (24/7) and all is kept on site.

What is potash?
Potash is the name given to potassium compounds and potassium containing materials, the most common of which is KCl. The name comes from the middle Dutch potaschen which means pot ash, referring to its original production of soaking wood ash in pots. The name of the element potassium comes from potash. Potash ore is a mixture of KCl, NaCl, Fe2O3, clay and other trace salts.

Potash Mining
There are two ways to mining potash: conventional mining and solution mining. In Mosaic Belle Plaine solution mining is used. Natural gas is burned to turn water to steam. The steam is put through two turbines to generate electricity. 90% of power needed to run the plant is produced on site and the rest is supplied by SaskPower. The steam exits the turbines as hot water, which is then pumped into the cavern to mine KCl. The recovered brine solution from underground is sent to either the refinery or the cooling ponds.

In the refinery, the brine solution is pumped to the evaporators (8 in total), where steam is used to evaporates some of the water causing the NaCl to settle out of the solution. Then the stream is directed to the crystallizers to recover KCl.  Subsequently, the wet KCl is dewatered, dried, sized, compacted, and/or stored. The cooling ponds use natural evaporation to settle out the KCl. Two dredges are used to recover the KCl from the ponds.


Potash Interpretive Centre, Esterhazy, SK
After our drive from Belle Plaine Potash Mine, we arrived in Esterhazy at about 7:00.  We were treated to a wonderful, homemade Ukrainian supper of perogies, cabbage rolls, and Grayson sausage at the Esterhazy Bowl Arena. Socializing and interacting with the others in our group was a very nice touch to the evening as we all sat together at one large, square table, where we were served our supper.

We then walked over to the Potash Interpretive Centre. Outside of the centre there was a tall, 20 foot statue of a miner and an old train car out on the front lawn.  When we entered the centre, we were greeted by our tour guides who were retired employees of the mine.  We learned about the backbone of the Esterhazy economy, which is potash.  

The interpretive centre is a great place to go to learn about the history of the potash industry and how it is important not only to the people of the area, but also all around the world.  The information was displayed through murals, maps of the local mines and the patterns they used for mining, a life-sized diorama of the area being mined, miniature models of the equipment used, and videos.  

We learned about the construction of the mines and how the technology has changed throughout the years. Where once there was a lot more physical labour, many of the mines operations are carried through by computers and automation. Safety measures are also considered more effectively than in the past.

The Potash Interpretive Centre is an excellent place to visit to experience what a working potash mine is like, without actually being able to visit a mine.

Day 3 Potash – Conventional Underground (Mosaic Esterhazy K1 & K2), August 21, 2018
A Mine Called K1

By Melanie Charnetski, Eaton School, Eatonia; Lanna Abbott, Lumsden High School; Violet Dubitz, SMA

Now this is the story all about how,
We learned about mining underground.
We’d like to take a minute,
Just sit right down,
We’ll tell you how we became the queens of a mine called K1.

In Southeast Saskatchewan, born and praised,
In Esterhazy is where spent one full day.
Gearing up, maxin’, descending all cool,
Traversing the tunnels, gettin’ all schooled,
When a couple of guys, who were up to some good,
Took us on a tour of their neighbourhood.
We got in some good sights, and we weren’t even scared,
Brad said, “Take as many potash samples as you dare.”

We whistled for a ride, and when it came near,
We thought to ourselves, “What a career!”
If anything we could say this trip was rare,
And we thought, “Time for the mill, yo holmes, to the stairs!”

We arrived at the mill around 12:08,
And we learned about size and importance of grade.
They showed us their kingdom, our tour was done,
Thank you, best wishes to the mine called K1!


Mosaic Esterhazy K2
Michelle Peters, Thom Collegiate High School, Regina and I (Mick Rissling, Martin Collegiate High School, Regina) decided to express the processes we learned about traditional underground potash mining and potash chemistry from the Esterhazy K2 mine in song form. You may wish to listen to it by itself or as an accompaniment (or epic song battle) to the song done by our colleagues in their K1 mine experience. Enjoy!

Esterhazy Rhapsody (sung more-or-less to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen)
Is this the real life?
Is this nerd fantasy?
Down in K2 mine,
3.3 x 103 feet from reality.
Open your eyes,
there are no skies to see.
I am just a poor teacher,
I need some good PD.
Because it’s easy come, easy go,
we’ll again be high but now we’re low.
The one way that the fans blow really, really matters to breathe.
To breathe.

Mosaic, protects a man.
Put a hard hat on his head,
Safety trained so he’s not dead.
Mosaic, K3 just begun,
To no longer have to throw water all away
Mosaic, oooooh
Still need to make it dry.
If I’m not up the shaft this time tomorrow
Come on down, come on down, I’ll be in the refuge.

Clocked in, time to descend
My ears poppin’ all the time.
Steel-toe boots caked with brine.
Good-bye everybody, I’ve got to go
Gotta leave surface behind and face the face.
Mama, ooo (there is no way the wind blows)
The pressure is real high,
I sometimes wish I’d never come down at all.

We see high-grade potash in the rock,
Dig it out, send it up, will you do the miners’ tango?
Blades spin as fast as lightning, with PPE it’s not frightening
Esterhazy, Esterhazy,
Esterhazy, Esterhazy,
Esterhazy Mosaic Co. Mosaic Co.!

It’s just a mixture, gotta separate it
it’s just a mixture, from the Elk Point Sea.
crystalline compounds, evaporation processes.
K-C-L , K-2-O, just let it go.
so-di-um - electrons let it go - let it go!
so-di-um - electrons let it go - let it go!
so-di-um - electrons let it go - let it go!
We will not let you go (never)
Never let you go let me go
Never let me go ooo
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
O chemistry-a differential density-a help-a-me-a let it go!
Flotation has aeration and ions for me.
For me
For me

So you think you can split me and sell me by size?
So you think you can dissolve me and leave me to dry?
Oh baby, I just need to be compacted, baby.
Just gotta get sold, just gotta get shipped outta here.

Ooh yeah, ooh yeah,
Potash really matters,
Botanists can see,
Potash really matters, to plant chemistry.

All the ways the food grows.


Day 4 Coal  - Westmoreland Coal Poplar River Mine and Castle Butte, August 22, 2018

The sleepy group of 2018 GeoVenture participants awoke to a beautiful crisp yet sunny day in the lovely community of Willow Bunch, Saskatchewan.  After a brief meal at the local restaurant we ventured out to ‘meet the giant’ nearby, Mr. Edouard Beaupre.  Standing over 8 feet tall was an impressive statue of his likeness, but nowhere near the size of ‘Great Gus’.

Great Gus is the smaller of two giant draglines that are the backbone of the Westmoreland Poplar River coal mine.  With a boom arm measuring 140 meters and a reach of 110 meters, this behemoth moves earth like a champ.  If this were parked at one end of Mosaic stadium it could reach the goal post at the other end! It has the power to dig a typical basement in two swipes of its giant bucket, with each swipe carrying 70 cubic meters.


Upon arriving at the Westmoreland facility, we signed in and were given a very thorough orientation and safety talk, complete with a professionally produced animated video.  We all donned our Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and off we went to board the bus.  The first stop was to see the coal seam and get out to walk in the pit.  We were treated to seeing the water truck go by and water the coal in an effort to keep the dust down.  We were also given bags to collect our very own coal samples, and had a group picture taken in front of the coal.


The seam of coal is typically about 4 meters deep, and is covered by about 30 meters of overburden.  It is the job of Great Gus to remove this overburden.  The giant loaders and haul trucks do the rest.  We watched a truck get loaded while we were there, hauling away about 140 tons of coal which is about 5 bucket loads from the loader.  We then followed the truck out of the pit up a ramp that has a maximum grade of 6 percent.  This means that for every 100 meters of travel, the ramp can only rise by 6 meters…but when you are hauling that much weight it is a pretty good feat.  Upon leaving the coal pit, the trucks travel approximately 5-10 minutes to the hopper where they unload all that coal so it can be loaded into the train for delivery to the power plant.

At the loading station, trains come to the plant to be loaded with coal destined for the power plant.  After the coal is hauled from the pit to the hopper, the truck unloads the coal and it is crushed to a more uniform size around 6 inches.  Then it is loaded onto a series of train cars (21 in total), and hauled to the Sask Power coal generating power plant.  This plant has two turbines and each one has a capacity of 315 megawatts.  The 630 megawatts of power generated at this plant represents about 20 percent of the total power that the province of Saskatchewan uses.  Two locomotives are owned by the company, and each of the rail cars holds about 90 tons for a combined total of about 2000 tons per train.  That coal is typically used by the power plant in about 3 hours, after its been crushed at the plant into a fine dust so it can be sent to the furnaces for combustion to power the turbines.

Our bus headed out to take us to see the dragline next, appropriately named Great Gus.  Another dragline is the 400 foot dragline, but at the time was undergoing an 18 million dollar service and was not operational, but it is the largest dragline operated in Saskatchewan.  The main purpose of the draglines are to remove the approximately 30 meters of overburden, and access the coal seam, but the dragline doesn’t actually dig the coal.  We all had an opportunity to see the spare 100 ton dragline bucket, and had another group picture done in front of this giant ‘shovel’.

We were able to see the dragline from two angles, and after leaving the second pit we headed to the main facility again to tour the maintenance shop.  Maintenance is one of the largest expenses for the company (after wages) and preventative maintenance is performed on all the equipment regularly.  All equipment is washed before it is worked on, and the mechanics are generally all journeymen heavy duty mechanics.  The last part of our tour consisted of a lunch with many of the company leaders and it gave us an opportunity to ask many great questions. The knowledgeable staff made the tour not only safe and informative, but also exciting.  We learned about their drone technology for mapping the site, the GPS technology that the operators use, and some more history of the company, both at this mine and others that they operate.

One thing that was stressed throughout our entire tour was the importance of site remediation and reclamation.  Westmoreland works consistently with local land owners and government to ensure all regulations are being met.  They reclaim all land to a state very similar to what it was prior to the mining, and most of it is returned to farmland and eventually sold to local farmers once the coal has been removed.  The entire operation was impressive to see, very educational, and certainly gives us educators who were on the tour a lot to talk to our students about.

Castle Butte
By Debbie Peterson, Kyle Composite School and Lee Jacobson, North Park Wilson School, Saskatoon

Coming across the flat prairie from the southern part of Saskatchewan, we followed the long road into a wide open valley formed by glacier melt water channels. It was flat except for a tall castle which appeared before our eyes. It was in the middle of nowhere and rose up tall, dry, orange, brown, and beige with sage, dust, and some grass around it. It was full of horizontal and vertical lines covering the whole surface. Upon further examination, there were some caves around the base. Why was it here? What made the lines crossing the surface of the castle? We needed to interpret the geology of this formation.

Our guides Svieda and Pam were a wealth of information sharing that the Castle was indeed formed during the Upper Cretaceous period where the land was mostly covered by rivers, streams and swamps. Sediments deposited at the bottom of the water 75-55 million years ago created the sedimentary rock. As the surrounding rocks were eroded away, a butte was left behind (a butte is a flat-topped hill of soft rock with a hard-protective rock on top). The soft rock does not erode due to the hard-top surface. In the sedimentary rock, there is sandstone and traces of iron. The iron shows up in horizontal bands that create protruding ledges as the sandstone erodes. The vertical lines covering the butte are a result of water and weather eroding the sandstone. 

Some of our group walked around the circumference, some explored the caves, and others climbed the top to enjoy the beautiful vista. There was an opportunity to express our artistic talents on paper showing our impressions of the wonderful Castle Butte.


Day 5 Uranium - Cameco Cigar Lake and Orano Canada McClean Lake Mill, August 23, 2018

Cameco Cigar Lake Mine
By Karen Kennedy-Allin, Weyburn Comprehensive and Shelly Stamm, Central Collegiate, Moose Jaw

We started the day by meeting down in the lobby of the Saskatoon Inn at 5:45 am.  Even though it was so early, we were all on time!  We divided ourselves into cars and Pam lead us in a convoy to Westwind Airlines.  We checked in and waited our turn to board.  Breakfast was waiting for us on the planes.

The flight was beautiful, although it was a bit smokey to start with due to the fires in BC.


Pam gave us a lesson about the Athabasca basin while we were on our way.  Click here  and here to see geological maps of Saskatchewan and the Athabasca Basin similar to what Pam was showing us. 

We arrived at our northern destination about an hour and a half later.  It was interesting to note that the runway was a dirt runway, but it was a smooth landing nonetheless.  At that point, we were welcomed by a friendly employee of Cigar Lake Mine.

A school bus was waiting to take us to the mine site.  The views were spectacular!  We had seen many of the lakes from the airplane, but it was even better up close.  We noticed that the trees were not quite as tall as trees further south.  This is likely due to the colder climate and soil conditions compared to further south.

Our orientation was led by the manager of the site, Jeremy Breker. During the presentation he emphasized safety above all.   

Cigar Lake has a unique resource.  It has the highest grade uranium mine in the world.

Jeremy gave us an overview of what we would be seeing and we were on our way to put on or PPE.  We had booties, steel toed rubber boots, a white Tyvex jumpsuit, helmet and safety glasses.

All of our tours have involved two people from the mine to lead our groups.  One person describes what we are seeing and the other person follows behind answering questions and makes sure no one gets left behind.   

We were taken to the elevator shaft which was also referred to as “the cage”.  The ride down was exciting and quite smooth.  Our tour guides took us to several places including a refuge station that also serves as a lunch room.  Workers must clean their boots before entering and remove their safety helmets, gloves and wash their hands before entering the eating area.  

The ore is mined from underneath the ore body using high pressure water jets.  This was developed by Cameco and is referred to as the jet boring system or JBS.  More detailed information on this method can be found here. We got to see exactly where this occurs while we were touring underground.  We also got to see the area where the engine for the jets of water are kept.  They use 15000 psi to retrieve the ore.

Once the ore is removed from the ore body it goes to a slurry tank – which we also got to see.  From there it is ground up more to make it easier to move to the surface. Once we returned to the surface, we were taken to the building that the trucks enter to load the slurry that is then moved by truck to McClean Lake for milling.

Our tour guides answered all of our questions and were very patient when they had to re-explain some of the processes more than once. After the tour we loaded up the bus and headed to McClean Lake to see the milling process.

Orano McClean Lake Mill
by: Michelle Wall, Scott Collegiate, Regina and Carolyn Bowler, Sask Polytech, Moose Jaw

After waking up bright and early, the group split up to get on our planes for the ride to Cigar Lake. The tour of the uranium mine was fantastic as you just read above.

A delicious lunch was provided, and then we were on our way to the Orano Processing Facility located at McCLean Lake.
Our bus driver took us through some beautiful countryside full of lakes and black spruce/jack pine forest.
We arrived at the plant, and had coffee and the best fruit tray and snacks while the entertaining Monsieur Vincent Laniece (Gen. Mgr.) gave us an overview of the facility in his charming French accent.
Having a Frenchman in charge ensured that we were dressed to the nines in the latest safety fashions. Red coats, baby blue hats and purple gloves rounded out our ensembles.
Then we were off to the JEB Tailings Management Facility, an impressive 120m hole in the ground that used to be a mine from 1994-1997. Now, the wastes from the plant flow into the pond and settle on the bottom to consolidate into a big plug. Pumps draw water from the bottom to be recycled into the plant. The TMF was designed to ensure that all water flows into the pond from the surrounding area, and around the tailings. The inviting turquoise water is currently at an elevation of 436m. They were in the process of adding a liner made of bentonite clay to the upper portion of the pond to ensure that water flow continues to flow into the pond and not into the environment as the pond rises to its maximum capacity elevation of 450m which will be enough to hold all anticipated tailings from Cigar Lake. The liner also helps to prevent plants from gaining a foothold, which further prevents any wildlife from settling on the pond. With plenty of surrounding lakes to choose from, stray birds have never been a real issue.
 We headed back to the plant to learn how the plant deals with the 14-16 truckloads of uranium sent from the Cigar Lake mine each day. An impressive safety record and the array of devices for monitoring alpha, beta and gamma radiation made for a relaxing entry into the plant.
First stop - unloading the trucks. The 12% uranium slurry is vacuum suctioned out of the bottom of each truck container and sent to the pachucas for storage. This area had the highest levels of radiation in the whole plant, so were weren't allowed to enter.


From the pachucas, we went to the leaching area where acid is used to extract uranium, and a variety of other metals, from the slurry. There is a lot of monitoring of the waste stream at this point because elements like selenium (which is toxic to fish at levels measured in parts per BILLION) can be present. As fishing is the main recreation of a lot of the workers here, they make sure that nothing will harm their pastime!
We also learned that a large amount of hydrogen gas can be released from the clay at this step, and the plant had to overhaul their equipment to make sure H levels stayed below the explosive range. Several backup systems make sure the levels stay low, even during the heat of summer.

Day 6 Diamond presentation & SRC Lab Tour, August 24, 2018
by: Renee Mahajan

Check out Renee's blog on the diamond presentations https://mixcord.co/acapella/p/EmN4Fvc34Bqn7omJwJR_Ig/