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Yesterday’s news today: Nutrien acknowledges 34 workers trapped underground

by Greg Klein | July 3, 2019

Update: Nutrien later reported that all 34 workers had surfaced uninjured by 6:15 p.m. July 3.

They reportedly have sufficient food, water and air, and there’s no fire or other danger looming. Still the question arises: Do people get stuck in Saskatchewan potash mines so frequently that it’s barely newsworthy? Thirty-four workers got trapped in Nutrien’s (TSX:NTR) Cory mine on July 2, but media didn’t find out until July 3.

Nutrien acknowledges 34 workers trapped underground

Cory comprises one of six Nutrien
potash mines in southern Saskatchewan.
(Photo: Nutrien Ltd)

An elevator breakdown keeps the workers underground until management comes up with an alternative means of egress. The mine had been undergoing scheduled summer maintenance.

Fire is the usual cause of confinement for Saskatchewan potash miners. Refuge stations provide safe rooms stocked with food, water and communications devices while fire crews extinguish the blaze and smoke clears. Those unable to reach a refuge station can try to use a battice, or safety curtain, to seal themselves off.

The Saskatchewan industry might claim an adequate fire safety record with few if any injuries reported at underground potash mine fires. But the fires themselves aren’t rare, as some previous examples show.

  • May 2019: 63 workers trapped underground for over seven hours during a fire at the Allan mine

  • September 2018: 101 workers trapped for five and a half hours at the Lanigan mine

  • March 2018: 55 workers trapped for about 20 hours at the K2 mine

  • February 2017: 87 workers trapped for up to 15 hours at the Rocanville mine

  • December 2016: 114 workers trapped for several hours at Allan

  • September 2014: 96 workers trapped for 26 hours at Allan

  • February 2014: over 50 workers trapped overnight at the Vanscoy mine

  • January 2013: 318 workers trapped for several hours at K2

  • September 2012: 20 workers trapped for 18 hours at Rocanville

With the exception of Mosaic’s (NYSE:MOS) K2 fires, all the above fires took place at mines now owned by Nutrien following last year’s merger of PotashCorp and Agrium.

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