An Australian mining company hopes to find the salt of the earth in a remote area of Southwest Colorado.
Sydney-based Red Metal Limited, through its subsidiary RM Potash, wants to drill exploratory core sites on public lands in western Dolores and San Miguel counties.
If the core sites prove successful, RM Potash could develop the first potash mining operation in Colorado, said Jon Thorson, manager for RM Potashs Colorado potash project.
There is commercial potash production in Utah, near Moab, and in New Mexico down near Carlsbad. Before our project, theres never been any significant exploration (in Colorado), and theres never been any production. So this is a brand new project for Southwest Colorado, said Thorson, who is based in Parker, Colo.
Potash refers to a whole family of potassium minerals, Thorson said.
These salts that contain potassium are used mainly for fertilizer. The name comes from the old process of evaporating the solution in pots and leaving a white residue, potash.
RM Potash applied for a potassium (potash) prospecting permit with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to drill up to six test sites.
The Dolores Public Lands Office, which manages BLM and U.S. Forest Service lands, will conduct an environmental assessment on the proposed potash core sites. The office will hold a public meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 12, at the Dove Creek High School Commons, 525 N. Main St., Dove Creek, to provide information about the proposal.
What theyre going to be doing is drilling some holes, said James Blair, a geologist with the Dolores Public Lands Office. Theyre not wells. Theyre core holes. Youre extracting a cylinder of rock. Theyre going to extract a cylinder of salt from 5,000 feet deep or something like that.
The six potential test sites are located in an area from about 5 miles north of Egnar to about 5 miles southeast of the community.
If the Dolores Public Lands Office approves the environmental assessment, RM Potash will select one or two of the six sites, drill sample cores and send them to a lab for testing, Thorson said. If the tests look promising enough, RM Potash will seek permits to drill about 15 to 20 more core holes. If those look promising, the company will seek permits for production wells.
The potash beds are about 5,500 to 6,000 feet below the surface and cant be mined conventionally, Thorson said. If it develops a mining operation, RM Potash will drill a deep hole and pump brine into the hole. The liquid dissolves the potash potassium minerals selectively, and then RM Potash can pump it back up to the surface. Boilers fired by natural gas will separate the potash out of the liquid. Those boilers could run on natural gas produced in Southwest Colorado.
Potash operations in the Moab area use evaporation ponds to separate potash from the drilling liquid, Thorson said. RM Potash would use boilers, not evaporation ponds.
This is an established technology thats being used around the world, he said.
If RM Potash eventually moves into a production phase, a potash mining operation potentially could employ 100 or more people, Thorson said.
Its a whole brand new industry for Colorado, he said.
About 95 percent of potash goes into fertilizer, Thorson said.
All the fertilizer you buy is in part potassium, whether its for a flower garden in your backyard or a corn field, he said.
The global demand for potash is strong, and prices for fertilizer have increased in the past several years, Thorson said. The United States imports about 90 percent of the potash it uses, mostly from Canada.
All this growing population wants better food and more of it, so theres a huge market for fertilizer, he said. This is a much different story than the uranium boom and bust cycle. This is driven by world population and growth.
Thorson said he is familiar with the Paradox Basin, an ancient seaway that evaporated some 300 million years ago, creating potash minerals.
Red Metal Limited hired a leading international potash consultant, Grand Junction-based Agapito Associates, to study the Southwest Colorado area, according to Red Metal Limiteds website, www.redmetal.com.au.
Old records from petroleum drilling sites provided information about possible sites to explore for potash, Thorson said.
It looks very encouraging, and it looks comparable to the mineralization they are using over in Moab, he said.
The Dolores Public Lands Office will determine potential impacts of the potash sites through the environmental assessment, which includes public comments.
We havent had a potassium drilling project in this area before, so were doing some extra public outreach, Blair said.
The public lands office expects to reach a decision on the initial exploration wells between September and January.
If the public lands office approves the sites, RM Potash probably wont start drilling until spring 2012, Thorson said.
Comments on the nature and scope of the environmental, social and economic issues, and on possible alternatives related to the proposed action, must be submitted by July 29. Send comments to James Blair, Dolores Public Lands Office, Bureau of Land Management, 29211 Hwy. 184, Dolores, CO 81323 or fax comments to 882-6841. For more information, call 882-6800.
Further information and official documents regarding the application are posted at http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/sjplc.html.
Reach Russell Smyth at 564-6030 or firstname.lastname@example.org.