PotashCorp expansion almost complete with completion of new service shaft

January 18, 2016 8:09 am
Kevin Weedmark

PotashCorp Rocanville has reached a significant milestone in its expansion, with the new service shaft at Scissors Creek now in use.

“The first group of employees used it Dec. 7,” said PotashCorp Rocanville General Manager Larry Long.

The Scissors Creek service shaft is now being used to transport workers and equipment between the surface and the mining level.

The original service shaft will be converted to a second production shaft to bring ore to the surface, a project that should be completed by October.

“In the original service shaft we’re doing some grouting in the walls to seal off some natural water that leaks in,” said Long. “It’s not a lot but we do it because that water is brine, and the salt precipitates in the wall, and we have to clean that up. Because we’re not using it right now and we’re going to convert it, we’re just taking the opportunity to drill holes in it and pump grout in to help control that little bit of brine that’s coming in. That’s going to take us about six weeks to two months to do.”

The conversion of the original service shaft will be a large project.

“It’s the last big project on the expansion,” said Long. “Once that’s done, the expansion is done. We will tear down the old headframe, we’ll finish building the rest of the production headframe, we’ll have to do steel work in the hole itself to set up the system for the skips. Those are the two major fundamental steps. Once that work is done, and we have all the utilities installed—the power, everything we need to run the system—we have an ABB hoisting system that we’re using, and what you do then is called roping up, so you install the ropes, you hang the new skips on the ropes, and at that point, when everything is in place, we start commissioning the new system. It sounds simple, but it’s a lot of work.

“Then it’s the hookup at that point. We have to do the final installation to get it going to the mill. It’s the same underground, from the bins underground to where the skips are loaded underground, there will have to be the final connection done there as well.

“Typically what you do then is you go into the commissioning, so you start testing the system, you start running muck into the skips and running it to the surface, running it to the mill. My experience is there’s the physical part of the commissioning, but there’s also now, like everywhere else, a lot of software and firmware involved. The programming also is a bit of a task.

“When I was involved in this at the Allan mine that actually was longer than the physical commissioning of equipment.”

Staffing has ramped up at PotashCorp Rocanville through the expansion, and while a few more staff will be added in coming months, the total staff complement is close to the final number.

“There are still positions to fill,” said Long. “Our budget number is 720, and we haven’t quite filled it, so we’re still hiring, and the final number won’t be significantly higher than 720. We’ll probably end up somewhere between 720 and 750. A lot of the production and maintenance positions are filled. There are still a few technical positions to fill.

“Historically, technical positions in the mining industry have been challenging to fill the last 15 years because we don’t produce enough of them in Canada out of the university system, so it will be a challenge.”

Long said production will start ramping up as soon as the second production shaft is completed.

The expansion was planned to add 2.9 million tonnes of operational capability to Rocanville, increasing the facility’s annual operational capability to 5.7 million tonnes. The expansion project included the installation of a new mill and a 500,000 tonne product storage building at the current Rocanville site, and the development of the Scissors Creek facility 15 kilometers from the original site.

“There will be immediate ramp-up,” said Long. “We have to get it commissioned. That involves ramping up the entire system, and we will be looking at the first quarter of 2017, going into our Canpotex run. Before we do that, we’re going to want the entire system to be up, so you have to run the muck, you have to try to get it up to full capacity.

“The rest of the system is already operating We’ve been using mill 2 pretty consistently the last couple of months, working the bugs out of it.

“The last real system we have to commission will be the new loadout and hoisting system.”

Long says the expansion depended on the expertise of a lot of PotashCorp Rocanville employees.

“We have people who were brought in to manage the expansion but the technical expertise lies within PotashCorp and so our staff had to be involved with the decision-making process. We had some staff we transferred from operations to the expansion to help out on our side of the fence. Our staff who were still in operations were heavily involved because, in the end, it’s going to be our plant and our undergound mine and our hoisting system, so we want to make sure it’s done the way we want, so it does put a strain on everyone and I think they’re all going to be relieved when we’re back in a normal operating mode.”

He said several employees were key to the project. “Justin Young moved over to the expansion full time, Shawn Munroe did a lot with the expansion. He’s the underground mine superintendent. Vance Thom, who is the general superintendent of the mine, did a lot—he’s got a lot of experience in hoisting systems and mine ops. Terry Daniels, the superintendent of operations for the mill, did a lot. Dale Stangeland actually got promoted and moved to the Lanigan mine, but he did a lot of work on this expansion. The general engineering staff and a lot of our general foremen, we would use them and their expertise. Some of the guys put a lot of work into it. Even our accounting staff, Chantelle Ollivier and her staff, they’re involved from the financial end of it. The last few years have been a strain on my staff and I think they’re all going to be relieved. It was exciting but it can be stressful at times. I think everyone took a lot of pride in what they’ve accomplished.”