BHP (ASX, NYSE, LON: BHP), the world’s largest miner, is weeks away from deciding whether to go ahead with its long-delayed Jansen potash project in Canada, more than 10 years after completing the mine’s feasibility study.
The company has been mulling a final decision on the asset for at least eight years, during which it has spent about $4.5 billion laying the ground for the crop nutrient-producing project.
Before choosing to spend a further $5.7 billion to bring Jansen into production, BHP is looking into what port it would use to ship the key element in plant nutrition.
“We are considering two options in terms of the port. One is a commercial option at the port of Vancouver, one is a greenfield option,” BHP’s Minerals America president, Ragnar Udd, told investors on Thursday.
“We would like to have those locked in before we take [Jansen’s decision] to the board,” he added.
Originally expected during 2020, BHP’s announcement could come on August 17, when it publishes results for the year ended June 30. But the company may issue a statement on the matter as early as next month, when it’s slated to publish its operational review for fiscal 2021.
The mining giant expects potash demand to increase by 15 million tonnes to roughly 105 million tonnes by 2040 or 1.5% to 3% a year, along with the global population and pressure to improve farming yields given limited land supply.
BHP has also been talking to Canadian rival Nutrien (TSE, NYSE: NTR), which had originally signalled its willingness to either becoming the mine operator or taking a stake in the project.
Nutrien executive vice-president of Potash, Ken Seitz, dispelled any doubts about the topic in an interview last week, by saying collaborating with BHP was not the company’s “current focus”.
Formed in 2018 from the merger of Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan and Agrium Inc., Nutrien has been an open critic of the Jansen project for years, as it believes developing it would cause an unwelcome oversupply. The company’s tone has slightly changed since Mayo Schmidt took the helm of the company earlier this year, replacing Chuck Magro.
The Saskatoon-based miner said in May the market could absorb Jansen’s output if produced in a “disciplined” way.
Located in the province of Saskatchewan, 140km east of Saskatoon, the project is expected to give BHP exposure to a market driven by rising global food demand and represents one of its few major growth prospects.
Jansen is slated to produce 4.4 million tonnes of potash annually in its first phase, or nearly 8% of the world’s total. It will have capacity for an additional 12 million tonnes thereafter for a life of 100 years.