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Saskatchewan mining plans include drilling incentive, lithium extraction and rare earths processing

by Greg Klein | November 14, 2019

It’s interesting enough now but the manifesto might make even more compelling reading 10 years from now. That’s the due date for no less than 30 lofty economic and social goals announced in Saskatchewan’s Growth Plan on November 14. Not surprising for a province where mining plays such an important role, the government intends to further encourage the industry. But the agenda goes well beyond Saskatchewan’s standbys of potash and uranium to call for the development of nuclear energy, lithium extraction technologies and “the first North American REE processing plant to deliver individual high-purity REEs.”

Saskatchewan mining plans include drilling incentive, lithium extraction and rare earths processing

Among the objectives already achieved is the renewed PST exemption on drilling. In a news release from the Saskatchewan Mining Association, Purepoint Uranium TSXV:PTU VP of exploration Scott Frostad describing drilling as “the lifeblood of a sustainable mining sector.

“All discoveries are made through drilling and the life of a mine is extended through drilling off additional reserves. Monies recovered through reinstatement of the PST exemption on drilling will be invested in more holes being drilled, which will increase the prospects of finding the next Saskatchewan mineral deposit or extending the life of an existing mine.” 

Exploration spending in the province’s north will surpass $200 million this year, the SMA stated. “Drilling costs represent almost half of a typical exploration budget. For every $1 spent on drilling, another $1.30 is spent on support activities such as geophysics, groceries, camp and air support, and professional services, with the majority of this spend with companies operating out of northern Saskatchewan.”

If the growth plan goes to plan, Saskatchewan will find another customer for its uranium. That would be Saskatchewan itself, which will work with New Brunswick and Ontario to generate electricity with small modular nuclear reactors. Combined with wind and solar, the province hopes to make up to 80% of its energy mix emissions-free. Saskatchewan currently generates most of its electricity from coal and natural gas.

The province also sees potential in strategic and critical metals, touting “world-class resources of both lithium and rare earth elements, which are extracted as part of oil and uranium production.”

The Saskatchewan Party government plans to consider partnerships with industry, universities and research institutes to develop lithium extraction, to work with miners to develop rare earths, “including production of high-value REE concentrate in Saskatchewan within the next two years,” and to host the continent’s first plant to process individual high-purity REEs.

[A rare earths processing plant] would be a first in Canada that would create jobs, increase exports and provide a significant opportunity for value-added manufacturing.—Government of Saskatchewan

“This would be a first in Canada that would create jobs, increase exports and provide a significant opportunity for value-added manufacturing,” the government stated.

The province also committed to streamline permitting and create a Geoscience Data Management System “to increase exploration efficiency, improve drilling and development outcomes, and make new discoveries.”

With Phase I pre-planning expected to finish this month, the project will “improve the province’s investment attractiveness for its mining and petroleum sectors by facilitating access to high-quality geoscience data and supporting the growing interest by industry in machine learning/artificial intelligence applications to guide natural resource exploration,” a government spokesperson told ResourceClips.com.

Among the plan’s 30 goals are increasing annual uranium sales to $2 billion and potash to $9 billion.

Ambitious infrastructure plans entail highway expansion and upgrades, a north-south rail line, and support for pipeline expansion and a national infrastructure corridor to enhance connections with the port of Vancouver and establish a link with the port of Churchill, Manitoba.

Last year mining contributed over $7 billion to Saskatchewan’s GDP, which reached an all-time high of $82.5 billion with the country’s third-highest growth rate. According to the SMA, the industry employs 30,000 people directly and indirectly, with a payroll of over $1.4 billion to direct employees, and is proportionally Saskatchewan’s largest private sector employer of indigenous workers. 

Read Mining for the future: Saskatchewan Research Council R&D fosters innovation and sustainability.

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