TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – Mining heavyweight BHP Billiton is “aggressively” pursuing potash projects in Saskatchewan along with its Jansen asset, the company said on Wednesday.
“Although these are at an early stage, the data acquired suggests they have the ability to support significant potential developments,” spokesperson Ruban Yogarajah said, adding that the combined properties could “at least” match Jansen’s planned output of eight-million tons a year.
BHP Billiton in June said it approved a further $488-million to develop Jansen, bringing its total investment in the project to $1.2-billion.
The world’s biggest resource company will take the project to its board for approval next year, with first production of the crop nutrient due for 2015.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Saskatoon daily StarPhoenix reported that BHP Billiton might build as many as five new potash mines the size of Jansen, citing BHP Billiton Canada external affairs VP Chris Ryder.
After Jansen, the company’s most advanced projects in the province are Young and Melville.
“Although these are at an early stage, the data acquired suggests they have the ability to support significant potential developments,” Yogarajah said in reply to emailed questions.
BHP Billiton has completed a concept study at Young, with a prefeasibility already under way.
The company has started building the study team, and aims to finalise two-dimensional and three-dimensional resource models from seismic tests and drilling by mid-2013, at which time it will also finish the prefeasibility study, Yogarajah detailed.
A concept study is still underway at the Melville area.
Other companies, led by Potash Corp, are also spending billions to grow production of the crop nutrient in Saskatchewan to take advantage of rising demand and prices.
That firm, the biggest producer globally, is carrying out a C$7.5-billion expansion at its existing mines in the province, while competitors Mosaic and Agrium are also boosting output.
On Tuesday, Rio Tinto said it entered a joint venture with Russian-owned North Atlantic Potash to explore for the mineral in Saskatchewan.
All this development has led to a skills shortage, which Yogarajah said BHP Billiton was addressing through working with Aboriginal and other local communities on training and skills development.
“We are also exploring with the University of Saskatchewan about a possible Mining Centre of Excellence to provide local skills development,” he added.
BHP Billiton last year dropped its $40-billion hostile bid for Potash Corp after the Canadian federal government said the deal did not meet its ‘net benefit’ requirements for the country.
The mining giant earlier this year moved its Canadian headquarters from Vancouver to Saskatoon.