The possibility of a potash mine near Egnar and Dove Creek is one step closer.
The BLM has approved a potash exploration project submitted by RM Potash, a subsidiary of Australia-based Red Metal Limited. Exploratory drilling will take place approximately 15 miles north of Dove Creek in Dolores and San Miguel counties, Colo.
Six drill sites and associated road upgrades for three roads were evaluated, and five were approved under this decision, for a total disturbance of up to 14.7 acres. One proposed drill site deferred at this time.
Each location will be about 250 feet by 250 feet, and core sample drilling will be approximately 6,500 feet deep to recover a sample, according to the BLM. Several design features and mitigation measures will be required to ensure protection of the environment, people and wildlife, including the Gunnison sage grouse.
Potash, which is the common name for potassium, is generally found associated with salt deposits or salt brines and is one of three key ingredients in fertilizer. Potash is also used to manufacture soaps, perfumes, water softeners, ceramics, pharmaceuticals and a host of other industrial and consumer products.
The mineral sells for $400 to $450 per ton. Currently, more than 80 percent of potash in the U.S. is imported.
Local officials would welcome the 100-150 well-paying jobs a successful mine could bring to the region, said Dolores County commissioner Ernie Williams, but it is too early to count on the mine becoming a reality.
“We know there is potash there, just not how much,” he said.
The results of exploration will help to determine whether potential exists for future potash extraction and development. If, as a result of exploration, RM Potash can prove it has discovered a valuable deposit of potash, then the company may apply for leases from the BLM.
At that point, additional environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act would be needed to decide whether production could occur.
The test sites overlap critical habitat for the Gunnison Sage Grouse, a threatened species that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is considering listing as endangered, triggering additional protections.
Patty Gelatt, a USF&W supervisor, said it is possible for mining and the sage grouse to coexist; however, accommodations must be made.
“If there is a lek (breeding ground), that would need to be avoided, and things like timing of activities to reduce disturbance to the bird,” she said.
Jon Thorson, manager of RM Potash, said he can work within sage grouse habitat.
“I don’t thing the restrictions are insurmountable,” he said. “With mines and the approval process, it can take 20 years. I’ve worked for nine years to get the permits for exploratory drilling. And it will be another five years before mining can begin.”
Thorson said that based on oil well core samples done in the past, there is good potential for a profitable potash resource in the area.
“The trick is finding the sweet spot,” he said.