The new K3 project hit potash in Esterhazy earlier this year, marking a significant milestone for the company and province
Mosaic president and CEO, Joc O’Rourke says the company’s ‘win and grow’ strategy is on display 3,350 feet below the surface in Esterhazy at its new K3 mine.
On February 16, 2017, Mosaic’s new production shafts hit potash. The major milestone comes after nearly five years of intensive shaft sinking through the various geological formations in east central Saskatchewan to reach one of the richest and largest-known potash deposits in the world.
Hitting the potash ore zone is an impressive accomplishment. It’s been nearly 50 years since the last new production shaft has been sunk in Saskatchewan. Mosaic currently operates the K1 and K2 mines in Esterhazy. Mosaic’s K1 mine (formerly IMC) hit potash on June 8, 1962, and K2 was completed in 1967. In 1985, the K2 mine experienced brine inflow, that’s when salt water leaks into a mine, causing increased cost and risk.
In response to long-term market fundamentals and to decrease risk, in 2009 the company announced its intentions to build a new mine in Esterhazy. In 2011, shaft sinking began, and by 2015, Mosaic’s board of directors greenlit an accelerated timeline for the project.
The first phase of construction focused on building the north headframe. Towering 384 feet above the prairie landscape, the building is the tallest between Winnipeg and Calgary.
The headframe houses two massive hoists – the Koepe and Blair, with skips that will bring potash to the surface from a kilometre underground. The Koepe hoist will move 60-ton skips capable of lifting 10 million short tons of potash per year. The Blair hoist will carry a cage for people and equipment.
K3’s full design production capacity is for 6.3 million tonnes of product, or 19 million ore tonnes per year. Mosaic’s Esterhazy operations currently produce about 17 million ore tonnes per year. Upon completion of K3, Mosaic’s Esterhazy operation is expected to be the largest, most competitive underground potash mine in the world.
Keeping a multi-billion-dollar project of this magnitude on target isn’t easy. O’Rourke says its talented people that have got the company to this major milestone. “I’m very proud of the team here in Esterhazy – successfully managing a project of this scale takes incredible leadership. Where other companies have historically struggled, we’ve succeeded. We have some of the best people in the industry working on K3.”
Leading the skilled team of employees and contract partners is Mosaic’s vice-president of capital & engineering – potash, Gerry Couture. Having just surpassed 25 years with the company, Couture knows how important the project is to Mosaic’s future and the Esterhazy community.
“I feel privileged to be part of K3, knowing that the infrastructure we’re building today will be here well into the future. We have generations of employees who are part of our Esterhazy operations and that tradition is going to continue for so many, including my family.”
Lawrence Berthelet, director of capital expansion for K3 is another example of a generational Mosaic employee. His father, Remi, worked for Utah Construction in 1958 and Mosaic’s predecessor IMC in 1960 during the first shaft sinking. He was IMC’s 26th employee.
“The K3 project brought me back home to Esterhazy. I have two sisters, a brother-in-law, and cousins that all work for Mosaic at K1 and K2. For us, potash is a family affair.”
While the process for sinking the new shafts might not be all that different from Remi’s time – the level of safety is much higher. Mosaic is coming off its fourth consecutive year of record safety performance. It’s easy to see why families continue to work for Mosaic. Employees have great trust that their loved ones will be provided with the best safety procedures, equipment, and training.
An injury-free workplace is a top priority across all of Mosaic’s operations. From the start, safety has driven the K3 project’s planning, set-up, and execution. This is demonstrated through the Safe Start program and the Incident and Injury Free programs. These efforts have led to a world-class safety performance.
Hitting potash marks a literal ‘turning point’ for the project. Couture, Berthelet, and their teams have moved from vertical shaft sinking to horizontal mine development. Much of the required infrastructure will be added to the shafts, including lowering equipment to be reassembled for development and future production.
“K3 is the foundation of Mosaic’s future for potash production. Not only will it be a world-class operation, it drastically reduces our cost and risk, making us even more competitive as a global crop nutrient supplier,” says O’Rourke. “K3 demonstrates our commitment to the long-term sustainability of our operations and the vision we have for our potash operations in Saskatchewan.”
Work on the project will continue into 2024, but the impact of the project will last for decades. “We have a long and proud legacy in Esterhazy. For more than 50 years, we’ve managed to overcome incredible challenges and find great success a kilometre underground. We’re ready for the next 50 years and beyond,” O’Rourke adds.
To learn more about Mosaic’s K3 project, visit mosaicco.com/K3.by