Future of $700-million Michigan potash project in regulators hands

Storage facility at Nutrien’s Rocanville, one of Canada’s lowest-cost potash mines. (Image courtesy of Nutrien (Former Potash Corp.)

The faith of a controversial potash project in the state of Michigan may soon be defined, as regulators are considering a fresh proposal submitted by Michigan Potash Co.

The Colorado-based company’s plan includes the construction of a plant in central Michigan where the commodity, used as crop nutrient, will be treated.

Michigan Potash seeks to extract the fertilizer ingredient through solution mining by pumping water or brine into targeted zones to dissolve and recover the potassium-rich salt commodity.

The $700 million mining project would recycle large quantities of water and try to use less than what it’s been allotted, Michigan Potash says.

But opponents to the $700-million project argue the chosen method could potentially draw down the water tables, dry up local streams and rivers, and reduce the flow into the Muskegon River.

State regulators have already approved the miner’s request to use almost 7.6 million litres of water a day at the site in the Osceola County wetland complex. This means the proposed mine would use more than 274 million litres of groundwater each year.

Michigan Potash CEO Theodore Pagano told Associated Press last month the mine would recycle large quantities of water and “strive to use less than what it’s been allotted.”

Those in favour of the project, which is in the final permitting stages, say extracting Michigan’s potash could bring as much as $65 billion into the state economy, the local radio reports.

Michigan Potash’s proposed mine is also expected to about 150 permanent on-site jobs, which could increase to 300 as the operation grows.

While Donald Trump issued a presidential order last year to ensure secure and reliable supplies of 35 minerals to the US, including potash, the market for the fertilizer ingredient is far from being ideal.

Potash prices are hovering just above levels not seen since 2007 and with top importer India cutting its import subsidies 10% last week, there is little in the offing to improve sentiment.