Voice of Saskatchewan
Mining and Exploration

GeoVenture Blog

Potash Saskatchewan
2019 SMA GeoVenture Blog
August 17, 2019

Following is the 2019 SMA GeoVenture Blog that took place August 17 - 22.

Day 1 Orientation and Welcome BBQ, August 17, 2019 - Terry Johanson, SMA Education Outreach

GeoVenture 2019 has officially launched! Our first day included our orientation workshop, getting to know each other and our first meal together at the Saskatoon Inn. Our travelling group this year includes 13 teachers, Dillon Johnstone from the Saskatchewan Geological Survey, and the SMA Team – Pam Schwann (president), Brad Sigurdson (vice-president) and Terry Johanson (Education Outreach Coordinator). Our workshop also included Jessica Theriault from Mosaic.

GeoVenture is a cornerstone of the SMA’s Education Outreach programs, which also include lesson plans, workshops, resources and a new teacher Catalyst program. The catalyst program gives GeoVenture alumni the chance to share their new knowledge with other teachers!

Our group learned so much from Dillon about the geological events that formed our province. Saskatchewan is pretty flat today, but our land was formed from huge mountain-building events and erosion. Dillon showed us that the mineral resources we mine were formed millions of years ago – the metals in the north are embedded in rock 1 to 2 billion years ago, while the potash in the south was formed less than a half a billion years ago. Dillon and Pam capped his presentations off by teaching us how to classify rocks using our rock identification kits.

Did you know that you are more likely to have a lost-time safety incident working in health care than if you work in the mining industry? We were surprised to learn that government workers also have a poorer safety rating than mining! Pam, Brad and Jessica Theriault introduced us to the mining industry in Saskatchewan. Some fun facts are that mining is the fourth highest mineral producer in Canada, we produce 32% of the world’s potash and 22% of the world’s Uranium, the mining sector is the #1 industrial employer of indigenous people, and Saskatchewan is the #1 mineral investment attraction in Canada. Most of us had no idea that mining has such a huge impact on our economy. The future of mining in Saskatchewan is strong, despite current commodity prices. Our world’s future population will require more food and more clean energy, which means more potash and more uranium demand. This means that the sector continues to invest in exploration to ensure long-term availability and access to resources.

It is pretty easy to see how we can include information and activities about mining into science classes, but today we were able to see how important mining is to our society as a whole. Infusing discussions and decision-making ideas into social studies is just as important. Our minds are already full of possibilities – we can’t wait to learn more through the week on this grand GeoVenture!

     

                             

Day 2 Uranium and Potash Presentations, Touring BHP Jansen Discovery Lodge and Potash Interpretive Centre, August 18, 2019 -Shana Timoruski (Central Collegiate), Leslie Gardypie (Constable Robin Cameron School) and Christine Matus (Ituna School)                                                                                        

We started the day learning about solution mining in Saskatchewan. Our potash samples, that we had previously started to dissolve the night before, had supersaturated the water. We needed to filter off the impurities (clay, iron oxide, and other excess undiscovered matter) to gain a purer product. After filtering, we took a sample of water and recrystallized the potash, using an ice-water bath. Potash crystallizes as a lower temperature than sodium chloride, so we could extract the potash in crystal form. This is similar to how they extract potassium chloride in solution mines. They collect the solution into tailing ponds and as the temperatures drop in they are able to scoop the crystallized potassium chloride off the bottom of the pond and recycle the water for future solutions. For further enrichment in a class (Chemistry 30 and Physical Science 20) it could be possible to test the crystallized potash to confirm it is potassium and not sodium through a flame test.

We then learned about uranium and uranium mining from NexGen. Troy Boisjoli (Vice President, operations and project development) and James Hatley explained how Uranium is discovered in Saskatchewan and the financial and scientific effort it takes for Uranium exploration. He also focused on the impact NexGen is having in Saskatchewan and how all of the funding being put into Saskatchewan is completely sourced out of Province. NexGen is also working with the Dene community very closely, forming strong relationships with its members. NexGen has a strong program that lets 20 young people working in all of the different facets of mining so they can experience many different careers. From this group of individuals, they award bursaries for schooling and have sent many kids to university. They have also given much back to the community by providing jobs and providing a breakfast program to the school. Uranium mining and exploration have excellent curriculum connections to waves (EM radiation and gravity) and chemical equilibrium(redox reactions).

Wrapping up our initial learning time in Saskatoon, we set out for BHP Jansen Discovery Lodge and started our adventure. Maury Simoneau led us on a tour of the state-of-the-art Discovery Lodge and WOW. It was massive. It had a gym, a theatre, and you could order almost anything that you wanted to eat! So amazing. BHP has invested 250 million dollars into this site without a cent of potash being taken from the ground. The site can hold 2500 people when moving into stage one of setting up the potash mine. They pride themselves on their accommodations and forward thinking in the company.

A long bus ride took us to Esterhazy’s potash interpretive centre next. John and Richard lead us through this museum in great detail. It was very interesting and really helped us learn about potash before we could take our mine tour in Rocanville. We finished off the day with an amazing Ukrainian supper of sausage, perogies and cabbage rolls and called it a night at the Canalta in Esterhazy.

        

Day 3 Underground Tour of Nutrien Scissors Lake and Coal Presentation, August 19, 2019 - Cindy Yanko (Ituna School) and Jaimie Mack (Churchill High School)

We had a great sleep and a bright and early breakfast at the Canalta Hotel in Esterhazy before hitting the road towards Rocanville at 6:45 am. Along the way, Pam showed us the new K3 site near Esterhazy, which has an exceptionally tall and impressive head frame. Once operational, potash from this new facility will be transported by conveyor belt to the K1 or K2 sites to be milled. As we continued our journey, Pam briefed us on the geological features in the area such as the Qu'Appelle Valley, which developed as the ice melted and retreated during the end of the last ice age.

We arrived at the Scissors Creek site at the Nutrien Rocanville mine around 7:45 am and were informed of the history of the mine and welcomed by Calvin, Amanda, and Leland, who would be leading us on our tour underground. Safety in the mines is of utmost importance, so we suited up into our safety gear first thing. We all looked great in our reflective vests, steel toe boots, goggles, hardhats, and gloves. In addition to the safety clothing, we also had earplugs for hearing protection, and each wore an oxygen breathing apparatus around our waist for use in case of emergency.

After getting geared up, it was time to load into the cage to proceed underground. The cage is like a giant elevator that can comfortably carry 40 people down into the mine. The spectacular ride down took about three minutes and brought us a kilometre below the surface. The size of the underground portion of the mine is massive, taking up about the same amount of space as the city of Saskatoon and boasting the title of the largest potash mine in the world! Approximately two kilometres of fresh ground is opened every day and 200 train cars full of potash are removed - amazing!

During our tour, our guides told us that the mine houses twelve miner machines, each worth 15 million dollars. We had a chance to watch the "Leopard" miner in action as it worked on drilling out a new room in the mine. Afterwards, we had the opportunity to gather samples of potash to bring back to our communities and show to our students. We also checked other areas in the mine, such as the shops where equipment is assembled and maintained, and the refuge areas where workers go in case of emergencies or power failures.

After coming back to the surface, we were treated to a delicious lunch on the mine site and had the chance to learn more from our guides and other experts from the mine. One interesting conversation that came up was about the recent 4.1 magnitude earthquake that occurred nearby. Contrary to what was said on T.V., the tremor wasn't felt underground at the mine, and the power outage on site occurred because of an automatic breaker jump.

We are now en route for Willowbunch where we will have a BBQ supper, get an overview on coal mining, and have a good night's sleep before another jam-packed day tomorrow at the Poplar River mine and Castle Butte!

        

Day 4 - Coal Strip Mine, CCS Presentaiton and Castle Butte, August 20 - Janna Varga (Air Ronge) and Matthew Kampman (Regina)

Today we continued our Geoventure across Saskatchewan. Yet another early morning began as we loaded the bus at 6:30am in Willow Bunch, SK. A last minute walk brought us to an interesting local museum. There we learned of Edouard Beaupre, a local Métis man who had grown to be 8’3”. Edouard was also known as the Willow Bunch Giant... be sure to check out the museum if you’re ever in the area. We then continued on to Coronach for a breakfast at Deb’s kitchen. The cozy dining area, company from Poplar River employees and a hot buffet was well received by all GeoVenturers and Mine employees.

8:00am Upon our arrival at Poplar River Mine we geared up in our PPE (personal protective equipment) and headed to the main building. Ready to learn, explore and sample all that this coal mine had to offer. After a few more introductions we were directed to a meeting room. We settled in for a short, animated safety video that was quite engaging, and then filled out our visitor forms. The mine sites’ employees were obviously proud and ready to share their profession with us, so we all moved on with the tour.

We toured the main building, learning of a mammoth tusk that was found on one of Poplar River sites. Fossils are always cool and they had their fossil proudly on display. We then moved on to their enormous shop.

Pictures were taken and everyone was interested and excited. Everyone loves massive equipment and Poplar Ridge mine has some of the best I’ve ever seen! A giant caterpillar that was having the tracks replaced, 2 loaders with tires 10’ tall and 2 massive coal haulers that you would have to see to believe! This equipment did not disappoint.

Next we headed to the bus to view the Dragline in action, see the reclamation on past sites and of course tour the open pit. Our Poplar Ridge tour guides took turns handling the bus mic and described and pointed out reclaimed fields, past areas that were mined and other interesting facts along the way. We watched the Dragline in action and I’m sure more than a few of us wished we could operate that machine. At the pit we were encouraged to ask questions, explore and collect our own coal samples.

After filling our pockets (Ziploc bags) we headed back for lunch with the crew and a Carbon Capture presentation... more on that from Matthew Kampman of Regina, SK.

Our tour of the Poplar River Mine was capped off with a scrumptious lunch courtesy of the mine, and an engaging presentation from Corwyn Bruce, one of the lead engineers of the carbon capture and storage (CCS) project at Boundary Damn 3. Since the project’s success Corwyn has taken his expertise to an international audience; consulting with coal fired power plants in other countries who stand to benefit from CCS facilities.

Through CCS, Corwyn's team has reduced the CO2 emissions of BD3 by 80 - 90% depending on operating conditions. What an achievement! It remains to be seen whether Bruce's team will be given the green light to outfit the Shand coal fired power station outside of Estevan with the same technology. Nonetheless, CCS has the potential to be implemented in coal fired power plants all around the world. A CCS facility that is bigger than BD3's has already been implemented in Texas. It was a pleasure to hear Corwyn speak and we wish him the best in his efforts to implement CCS technology at home and abroad, helping to both protect the environment and create meaningful employment for those who work at CCS facilities.

After the Poplar River tour we headed east to Castle Butte, part of the Big Muddy. Since I don’t want to ruin your first experience seeing this geographical sight, I’ll simply quote a tour mate...According to James Armstrong of La Ronge, SK, “Castle Butte is cool in every single way. Erosion can’t bring it down.”

Looking forward to Day 5 a potential Uranium filled wonder.

                    

Day 5: Cigar Lake Mine Tour and McLean Lake Mill Tour, August 21 – Al Wandler (Assiniboia), Adam Halyk (Prince Albert) and Kelly Ljunggren (Moose Jaw)

After an early morning wake up call, we met in the lobby at 6AM to head over to Westwind Air terminal to catch our 6:30 flight up to Cigar Lake to begin our day learning about Uranium. Our pilots were very friendly and had breakfast provided on the hour and forty-five minute flight into Northern Saskatchewan. Upon landing we boarded the bus that then took us to Cigar Lake mine. Once there we had a safety orientation and a quick presentation about how the mine operated from the mine operations manager as we had our morning coffee. After the presentation we left to get geared up so we would be safe when we went underground. This included white Tyvek overalls, little cloth booties to make the steel toed rubber boots more bearable, hardhat with lamp, gloves and of course safety goggles. Our guides Stephanie and Imre then took us to the cage that would take us down 480m into the mining tunnels. Although a bit cramped the ride down was quick and cozy. What a difference between the uranium mine and the potash mine. Instead of a dry, warm environment like the potash mine, this was wet and cold. All of the walls were reinforced with concrete and we got a close up view of the New Austrian Tunneling Method. We then got to see the uranium miner (in fact were on it!) and got an outstanding explanation of how it worked. The miner blasts the uranium out of its cavities with water pressured at 15 000 PSI. That’s enough pressure to cut steel! The slurry is then pumped to the surface where it is loaded into specially designed containers that are then trucked to McLean Lake Mill for processing. After returning to the surface we got bussed back to the airport and had a quick lunch on our 15 minute flight to Points North.

At Points North we had a bus waiting for us that took us to McClean Lake Mill. After yet another safety presentation, we got our safety equipment and began our tour of the mill. We broke up into two groups and the general manager, Vincent, and the operations manager, Todd, did a great job of showing us how the milling process works in a short period of time. Essentially, the mill concentrates the uranium that arrives from Cigar Lake and prepares it for transport for refinement in Ontario. Another significant role of the McClean Lake mill is to manage the tailings that are produced from the milling process and we visited the tailing management facility. It was obvious that Vincent was very proud of this facility and he said that no other mine in the world is using these techniques. It was an impressive operation. We went back to the safety station, returned our equipment and then had some light refreshments before jumping back on the bus for the bouncy bus ride back to the air field. We boarded the plane and were back in Saskatoon by 6:30 to conclude our whirlwind day.

There was so much information provided on this day that could be used in the science classroom – especially in chemistry – but when one considers all of the economics that are involved in this industry and the socioeconomic impacts that uranium has on local, provincial and world communities, one could use this information in the social studies classroom as well. It was a great way to end our last full day of the tour!

                              

Day 6: Diamond Lab and Presentation, August 22 - Cindy Weeks (Balgonie), Jocelyn Clark (Unity) and James Armstrong (La Ronge)

After an amazing and exhausting week blitzing around Saskatchewan's major mining operations, it was time for "Diamond Day". We started the day with yet another delicious breakfast, after which we were treated to a nerdtastic presentation on kimberlite mining, courtesy of Rio Tinto and Warren Riemer, one of two impressively tall geologists in the room.

What is kimberlite you ask? In addition to being the likely name of the next Kardashian baby, it's an igneous rock that can contain diamonds; the hypothetical Kardashian baby would likely have its diamonds on the outside. 

We learned that the diamonds in kimberlite were formed some time in the late Cretaceous. The hardness of diamonds, setting the high-bar of 10 for the hardest mineral known, is one of its coolest properties! Even though it makes perfect sense, it blew my mind to learn a 30 centimeter drop is enough for one diamond to chip another...completely shatters the trope of a jewel thief doing high impact acrobatics with a pilfered sack of jostling diamonds at their side - they would be ruined!   

The value of diamonds comes from their aesthetic, and more importantly, their rarity. Unusual size or rare color can greatly increase value. For instance, Argyle diamonds have a slight twist in their carbon matrix, giving them a rare pink hue. This makes them incredibly rare and valuable!

A portion of the talk was about the FalCon Diamond Project, the exploration of the Fort al a Corne site to determine the grade and quality of the kimberlite 400 meters below. Princess Leia was instrumental in this - her ability to extract 1 ton of ore every 2 minutes made her uniquely suited to the job. She didn't use the Force to do this, she used quality engineering, since she happens to be the "industrial mining cutter" Leia, not the "Han Solo's crush" Leia.

We learned the biggest obstacle for making a profitable mine was the removal of the overburden (that’s the technical term for all the earth on top of the desired ore).  Here's hoping the exploration goes well, and the tens of millions of dollars Rio Tinto spends on the site bears fruit!

 In the afternoon we went over to SRC Diamond Lab to meet a third impressively tall geologist. It's at this point that I start wondering if geologists are a tall alien species that came to earth to study it. It casts the Willow Bunch giant in a new light… I feel he was likely one of the early alien explorers.  

It was incredible to learn that the Saskatoon SRC Diamond Lab is the world's largest diamond lab! Kimberlite from all over the world is assessed there, at an even greater efficiency than the lab in Kimberley South Africa, kimberlite's namesake! Without going into too much detail, this facility is a hotbed of expertise and innovation. I loved seeing the diamond indicator minerals under the microscope - gimmie shinies! 

On that note, it was interesting to put the entire vast scope of global diamond production in terms of "finding rare shiny pretties". Every other mining industry we observed revolved around immediate pragmatic use. The diamond market's premium on aesthetic and rarity make their economics closer to a type of collecting, as exists with comics, baseball cards, and stamps: their value is almost entirely subjective!  When squaring the colossal efforts and costs with the final product, it's surreal... and worth thinking about.

After the tour was done, our week-long Geoventure tour was concluded. It was a wonderful experience from top to bottom, filled with hospitality and good faith.