Tuesday 22nd September 2020

Resource Clips


Posts tagged ‘oil’

Now all we need are mines

August 28th, 2020

The Saskatchewan Research Council plans commercial rare earths separation in 2022

by Greg Klein | August 28, 2020

Saskatchewan to offer commercial rare earths separation in 2022

This nondescript building will host a $31-million commercial REE facility in two years.
(Image: Saskatchewan Research Council)

 

Given China’s near-monopoly of these critical elements, the news from Saskatchewan is enormous—a commercial-scale rare earths separation facility up and running in two years. But the development is hardly sudden. The operator already boasts longstanding experience and world-leading expertise with the almost arcane endeavour. Moreover the August 27 announcement just confirms one of the ambitious mining-related goals in the province’s growth plan released last November.

Work begins this fall in Saskatoon on a $31-million processing and separating plant funded by the province. Canada’s only such facility, it constitutes a major step towards expanding REE supply chains independent of China. Operating the Saskatoon plant will be the Saskatchewan Research Council, a Crown corporation with 75 years of experience in mining-related research and technology, over 290 staff, $91 million in annual revenue and about 1,500 clients in 27 countries.

Saskatchewan to offer commercial rare earths separation in 2022

SRC assets include the world’s largest potash, uranium and diamonds labs, and its research extends to the oil and gas sector as well as to environmental studies.

The SRC has already been separating rare earths at the bench and pilot scale level. Its REE team currently employs 10 full-time-equivalent positions. The plan calls for staffing to reach 24 highly qualified FTEs in the facility, along with at least 10 more in R&D.

“SRC is a leader in the development of REE extraction and processing technologies and has worked closely with individual mining companies in Saskatchewan, Canada and globally on the concentration of REE ore for over a decade now,” points out president/CEO Mike Crabtree. “We employ world-leading experts on REEs who literally wrote the book on REE processing.”

That book—Separation Hydrometallurgy of Rare Earth Elements—was written by Jack Zhang, Baodong Zhao and Bryan Schreiner, SRC scientists of international stature.

The SRC anticipates ore or crushed sand will arrive by truck or rail from producers in Canada and the U.S., as well as potential overseas clients. Location of the tailings facility has yet to be determined.

One obvious caveat, however, is the current lack of North American primary producers. The sole exception is California’s Mountain Pass mining and processing operation. Although operator MP Materials has professed its commitment to an American supply chain, the company has been exporting its entire output to China.

Saskatchewan to offer commercial rare earths separation in 2022

New separation capabilities bring considerable advantages
to rare earths projects in Canada and elsewhere.
(Photo: Saskatchewan Research Council)

Demonstrating a non-Chinese commitment, however, is Australia’s Lynas Corp. The company operates a refining and separation facility in Malaysia to process rare earths ore from its Mount Weld mine in Western Australia. Lynas plans to open a WA cracking and leaching plant by 2023 to quell Malaysian concerns about low-level radioactive material shipped to the country. In the U.S., meanwhile, the company and its American JV partner Blue Line signed a contract last month with the Department of Defense, which would fund studies for a proposed American plant to separate heavy rare earths from Mount Weld.

But the SRC plant opens doors for potential North American sources, which last year totalled measured and indicated resources of 2.7 million tons in the U.S. and over 15 million tons in Canada, according to U.S. Geological Survey data.

Fitting for the world’s second-largest uranium-producing jurisdiction, Saskatchewan will process rare earths from uranium raffinate as well as from bastnasite and monazite, the most common mineralogical sources of rare earths.

But the Chinese challenge remains formidable. Chinese domestic mining accounted for nearly 63% of last year’s global production, a drop from 70% in 2018 but a number that doesn’t include Chinese control over foreign sources. Moreover the country’s dominance of separation facilities and expertise extends its control to an estimated 70% to 95% of various points along the supply chain.

SRC is a leader in the development of REE extraction and processing technologies and has worked closely with individual mining companies in Saskatchewan, Canada and globally on the concentration of REE ore for over a decade now. We employ world-leading experts on REEs who literally wrote the book on REE processing.—Mike Crabtree,
president/CEO,
Saskatchewan Research Council

Trade and other geopolitical tensions have brought fears—backed by implied threats—that the country will “weaponize” its rare earths dominance, repeating the 2010 machinations that staggered non-Chinese manufacturing industries.

The elements are vital to clean energy, electronics, transportation, defence, medical equipment and other necessities. American concern about rare earths and other critical minerals has triggered a number of initiatives including the Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration with Canada announced in January and reaffirmed in June.

But encouraging as the Saskatchewan initiative is, it hardly constitutes a slingshot to the Chinese Goliath. That country’s advantages include seemingly bottomless government subsidies, free use of black market or conflict material, and the backing of a savvy totalitarian government, according to Clint Cox. Speaking in Vancouver last January, the analyst and rare earths specialist with The Anchor House warned that Chinese dominance can’t be underestimated.

Nevertheless, the Saskatoon facility can only encourage junior mining activity. “The juniors are definitely the place where the last crop of potential mines came from, and it looks like they might be the next out there,” Cox told his January audience. “There’s some out there today.”

Among other goals, the Saskatchewan Growth Plan calls for studies into extracting lithium from the province’s brines as well as from oil and gas wastewater. The plan also considers adding nuclear energy to the province’s electrical mix from small modular reactors. Earlier this month Alberta joined Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick in a memorandum of understanding to co-operate on SMR studies.

Read more about the Saskatchewan Research Council.

A resource-less approach

August 21st, 2020

Attacks persist, but Canada has nothing to replace the economy it denigrates

by Greg Klein | August 21, 2020

“Very disheartened,” the Mining Association of Canada expressed more than usual frustration as another resource project faced another unexpected setback. This one caused special pain since it resulted from Bill C-69, which the industry group had controversially supported. MAC did so thinking the bill would fix problems associated with the federal environmental act of 2012. But the association had also supported Ottawa back then, before becoming disillusioned with the legislation’s implementation. Could there be a pattern here?

MAC expressed its most recent discouragement on August 20 after federal environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced Teck Resources’ (TSX:TECK.A/TSX:TECK.B) Castle coal proposal would face a federal review under the Impact Assessment Act in addition to the provincial review already underway.

Attacks persist, but Canada has nothing to replace the economy it denigrates

Teck’s Fording River operation: Does a supposedly green economy
have no room for steel-making coal? (Photo: Teck Resources)

As a new source of metallurgical coal just south of Teck’s Fording River mine in southeastern British Columbia, Castle would add “several decades” of life to the currently depleting operation, the company maintains. Teck hoped to begin Castle development in 2023 and production in 2026, to replace the existing operation early next decade.

Yet the size of the proposal calls for an environmental review at the provincial level only, Teck and MAC say, arguing that federal IAA intervention isn’t necessary.

“It seems clear that this decision was political in nature as there are many projects across the country with equal or more significant impacts that are not subject to the IAA,” MAC president/CEO Pierre Gratton asserted. “This is a case of the government succumbing to pressure from political interest groups while also placating the U.S. government’s EPA and the state of Montana.”

Yet Canada’s new regimen was supposed to end much of the federal-provincial review duplication, which helped explain MAC’s support for C-69 last year even after Parliament rejected most of the Senate’s proposed amendments. Over objections from the oilpatch and some uranium companies, MAC declared the new legislation an improvement over the former Tory government’s 2012 Environmental Assessment Act.

MAC had supported the 2012 transformation too. But later the group decided it did not “live up to its promise,” Gratton told CBC last year.

In making this decision, the federal government is sending a clear message that instead of providing support for resource projects and jobs in a time of unprecedented economic crisis, it will choose to do the opposite. —The Mining Association
of Canada

On August 20 he stated MAC’s support for the new IAA had been “contingent on it being implemented well. It is unfortunate that the past month has now given our industry reason to question whether it will be implemented in a fair and efficient manner.”

Weeks earlier, MAC noted, Ottawa released its new Strategic Assessment on Climate Change, “which included numerous requirements that are unworkable for the mining sector and is calling into question whether the act will be well and fairly implemented.”

Implementation aside, the IAA is hardly free of inherent faults. A February 2019 commentary by Grant Bishop and Grant Sprague of the C.D. Howe Institute warned that C-69 threatened projects by “congesting the assessment process with wider public policy concerns and exacerbating the political uncertainty facing proponents with a highly subjective ‘public interest’ standard.” That allowed for “increasing subjectivity and politicization in project approvals,” the authors contended.

Additionally, they said the new bill failed to clarify the duty to consult natives.

C-69 passed at the same time as Bill C-48, aka the “tanker moratorium,” and shortly after a ban on offshore Arctic drilling.

Problems are obvious at the provincial level too. One early sign of a growing trend was B.C.’s 2012 rejection of Pacific Booker Minerals’ (TSXV:BKM) Morrison copper-gold-molybdenum proposal despite an environmental assessment that found the project was “not likely to have significant adverse effects.” In the legislature last spring MLA Andrew Weaver, B.C.’s former Green leader, suggested the previous BC Liberal government rejected Morrison as a trade-off to gain native support for a gas transmission line to the proposed Pacific Northwest LNG plant.

The BC Liberal government did, however, support Taseko Mines’ (TSX:TKO) New Prosperity proposal. Ottawa scrapped that one, partly by expanding its environmental mandate to include spiritual and cultural issues.

B.C.’s current NDP government, meanwhile, has come under fire from Taranis Resources TSXV:TRO for a process that it said involved 28 government reviewers, “multiple catastrophic deficiencies and concerns” and “moving goalposts.” These are, of course, just a few examples of ongoing frustration that characterizes resource and infrastructure development across Canada.

Most vexing is the duty to consult. Does that create a veto? Not according to Gratton, who has previously insisted: “We’re not in a world of veto. We’re in a world of deep and meaningful engagement.”

But that deep and meaningful stuff can work in reverse too. When the Nunavut Impact Review Board recommended federal rejection of an expansion proposal for Baffinland Iron Mines’ Mary River operation in 2018, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association convinced Ottawa to approve the company’s request.

The Wet’suwet’en pipeline protests, moreover, appear to show some natives trying to veto others. The cause was taken up by Canada’s wider protest culture following its mass adulation for a Swedish teenager in demonstrations that at least hinted at religious fervour. The anti-pipeline movement quickly morphed into Shut Down Canada, an effort that showed signs of succeeding until quelled by the pandemic. Yet widespread demonstrating resumed with an American issue imported to this country awkwardly but with immediate and uniform support from Canadian media, political and business elites.

Will that support follow when protesters channel their emotions en masse back to environmental issues? Certainly much of the political and media establishment already grant credibility to seriously disruptive tactics that, for example, block people’s freedom of movement.

It’s in this milieu that the prime minister is speculated to be preparing an unprecedented social spending program that would dwarf previous deficit budgets.

Gold bugs might believe the outcome will vindicate their predictions for fiat currency. They might also feel vindicated by this week’s investment of US$560 million in Barrick Gold TSX:ABX by Berkshire Hathaway, whose legendary CEO Warren Buffett was previously known to disparage gold.

One of the world’s largest gold producers and nominally a Canadian company, Barrick has just one mine and no exploration or development projects in this country. For its part, Berkshire Hathaway expressed its opinion of Canada in early March when the company cancelled its planned $4-billion investment in GNL Québec. A spokesperson for the LNG proponent cited investor nervousness about the “current Canadian political context” demonstrated by rail blockades.

If Canada’s abandoning its resource economy, the replacement remains uncertain. That might be a situation better understood by investors than policy-makers, but it carries implications much wider than stock prices.

Economist Atif Kubursi explains negative oil prices

July 3rd, 2020

…Read more

A look at Canada’s future

June 8th, 2020

…Read more

Oil crash explained

April 21st, 2020

How are negative oil prices even possible?

by Atif Kubursi, McMaster University
posted with permission of The Conversation | April 21, 2020

It’s hard to believe that the price of any commodity, let alone oil, can dip into negative territory. But that’s just what’s happened to oil prices.

COVID-19 has prompted lockdowns, shuttered factories and stopped people from travelling. The global economy is contracting.

Oil crash explained How are negative oil prices even possible?

Pumpjacks pump crude oil near Halkirk, Alberta, more than a decade
ago. Oil prices have plunged into negative territory due to the glut
created by the COVID-19 global economic shutdown.
(Photo: Canadian Press/Larry MacDougall)

The pandemic has also reduced global demand for oil by about 29 million barrels a day from about 100 million a year ago. OPEC and other producers agreed to cut production by 9.7 million barrels a day, far less than the decrease in demand, leaving a huge surplus of oil on the market and no buyers.

Storage capacity on land has filled up quickly. Many oil-importing countries have stored large quantities of oil, taking advantage of cheap prices that may not last.

Some oil producers, hoping to maintain their market share, have taken to storing their excess oil at sea, leasing tankers at high costs. Some are believed to be paying in excess of $100,000 per day for each tanker. (All dollar amounts in U.S. currency.)

Oil prices will come back up

So how have Alberta oil prices and even future prices for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) slipped into negative territory?

It starts with the futures contracts for WTI—oil to be delivered in a few months at today’s price. It lost $6 a barrel on Monday, fetching $11.66, but ended the day at -$37 as holders of future contracts tried to dump their contracts before oil is actually delivered with nowhere to store it.

But Alberta oil, primarily derived from oilsands (referred to as Western Select), typically sells at $10 to $15 below the price of WTI, because it has to be extracted from deep rocky terrain. That makes it harder to refine, and it also has to be transported thousands of kilometres to American refineries.

Oil crash explained How are negative oil prices even possible?

An oil refinery in Kansas: Oil from Alberta’s oilsands is processed
at American refineries. (Photo: Canadian Press/AP/Charlie Riedel)

And so Alberta oil prices have become negative in the sense that the benchmark price is now lower than the cost of production, transport and storage.

This state of affairs cannot be expected to last for long. Producers, in the short term, may accept prices below their variable cost as long as they are able to pay some of the costs they will incur even if oil production shuts down.

As time passes, more and more rigs will stop operating (technically, a few will be kept operational in order to avoid being compromised) and a new balance between supply and demand will be established at prices that exceed total average cost. But this doesn’t bode well for either Alberta or the United States.

Collateral damage

Alberta oil is now the collateral damage of the oil war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, with COVID-19 launching an additional attack. Either of these two factors could have disrupted Alberta’s oil production. But the Saudi-Russia hostilities combined with the global pandemic have proven catastrophic for Canada, and could have a similar outcome for the U.S. energy industry.

Russia and Saudi Arabia depend heavily on their oil revenues to sustain their economies. Of course, Saudi Arabia’s economy is less diversified than the Russian economy, but both share a similar distortion, where oil revenues represent a very high share of their GDPs (Saudi Arabia about 50%, Russia 38.9%), budgets (Saudi Arabia 87% and Russia 68%), and exports (Saudi Arabia 90% and Russia 59%). It’s difficult to believe that either country can do with such low prices.

Russia needs a price of $60 a barrel to balance its government budget and even a higher price to balance its current account, meaning exports of goods and services minus imports of goods and services, plus net short-term capital transfers.

Oil crash explained How are negative oil prices even possible?

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, leads a recent virtual summit of the G20 energy ministers at his office
in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Photo: Saudi Energy Ministry via AP)

Saudis also need a much higher oil price

Saudi Arabia, which remains the lowest-cost oil producer in the world, can make money when the price per barrel exceeds $20, and Russia can at a price of $40.

But making a profit when prices are higher than cost is not sufficient. Saudi Arabia needs an $80-per-barrel price to balance its budget, realize its plans to diversify its economy and sustain a heavily subsidized economy. In the balance is the stability of both the Russian and Saudi Arabian political systems and current regimes.

The longer the COVID-19 pandemic lasts, the greater the damage oil producers will endure. It’s hard to tell now how high oil prices will rise once the pandemic subsides. They will likely go higher as marginal producers are eliminated, but not for long. Using oil and other fossil fuels is no longer consistent with avoiding the expected disasters of climate change. Oil is increasingly becoming a stranded asset.
The Conversation

Atif Kubursi, Professor Emeritus of Economics, McMaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

Oil crash explained: How are negative oil prices even possible?

April 21st, 2020

This story has been moved here.

Was Pacific Booker’s proposed mine sacrificed for an LNG project? Former B.C. Green leader raises questions

March 9th, 2020

by Greg Klein | March 9, 2020

While Greens might seem unlikely defenders of mining, an independent MLA who served as British Columbia party leader has taken up the case of Pacific Booker Minerals TSXV:BKM. In doing so, Andrew Weaver voiced concerns that the previous BC Liberal government, supposedly a supporter of resource development, may have pitted one project against another. He also criticized the current New Democratic Party government for stalling on the company’s latest environmental review.

Was Pacific Booker’s proposed mine sacrificed for LNG project? Former B.C. Green leader raises questions

Considerations more political than environmental
might have caused a B.C. mine’s rejection,
said a climate scientist/MLA.

In legislature on March 5, Weaver criticized the NDP for “regulatory inconsistencies” involving Pacific Booker’s Morrison project. The proposed copper-gold-molybdenum mine first met provincial rejection in 2012 despite an Environmental Assessment Office report which found that, with successful mitigation measures, the mine is “not likely to have significant adverse effects.”

Weaver stated, “There’s some suspicion that the decision around the Morrison mine had less to do with environmental concerns and more to do with political calculation.”

A staunch LNG opponent, Weaver told the legislature that “certain natural gas projects were located in areas close to the Morrison mine. Comments from groups engaged in the Pacific Booker project have indicated that the province was facing significant pressure to avoid reopening discussions around the Morrison mine in order to obtain the support necessary for the Prince Rupert gas transmission line.”

In 2013 then-BC Liberal leader Christy Clark made LNG the focal point of her re-election campaign, vowing the new industry would build three plants by 2020, create 100,000 jobs and provide $100 billion in government revenue, erasing B.C.’s debt. Her party won the election but no LNG facilities were built.

The 900-kilometre Prince Rupert gas transmission line would have connected B.C.’s oil-rich Peace district with the proposed Pacific Northwest LNG plant on the coast. That $11.4-billion project was shelved in July 2017 after the lead investor, Malaysia’s state-owned PETRONAS, backed out.

Morrison’s 2012 rejection “had serious repercussions for Pacific Booker,” Weaver pointed out. “Their share price plummeted from $14.95 to $4.95 in one day and many investors lost their life savings. What’s more is that the ministry failed to inform Pacific Booker of its intention to issue an adverse recommendation and did not provide the company with an opportunity to respond to it.”

In December 2013 B.C.’s Supreme Court ordered the province to reconsider the mine, ruling that the cabinet’s rejection “failed to comport with the requirements of procedural fairness.”

But when the BC Liberal government ordered further assessment of the proposal in July 2015, Weaver charged, the province failed to provide clear directions, further stalling the project into the NDP’s administration, which started in June 2017.

Mines minister Bruce Ralston replied that “the EAO continues to work with the company on this, and I’m advised that the latest submission was received by the EAO in December 2019.”

Weaver’s blog stated he was “not particularly impressed with the minister’s response to my questions. I intend to explore this issue further in the coming weeks.”

In a March 9 statement on “recent volatility in our market activity,” Pacific Booker director John Plourde expressed the company’s “appreciation to Dr. Weaver for bringing this matter to the attention of the House and Mr. Ralston, and our hope that his intent to explore this further in the coming weeks brings a resolution to the issue.”

Greens hold the balance of power in B.C.’s minority government. Weaver, a University of Victoria climate scientist, left the party in January for family reasons and announced his intention to retire from politics.

Teck gets brownfields green energy project with re-acquisition of legendary mine

January 16th, 2020

by Greg Klein | January 16, 2020

Teck gets brownfields green energy project with re-acquisition of legendary mine

The SunMine sits atop reclaimed land over a onetime world leader in zinc-lead production.
(Photo: Teck Resources)

 

A former mine that’s been regenerated to generate clean electricity has come back to a former owner. A recent purchase returns the surface site of southeastern British Columbia’s legendary Sullivan mine to Teck Resources TSX:TECK.A/TSX:TECK.B, bringing with the property a 1.05 MW solar farm.

Built by the city of Kimberley on land provided by Teck after Sullivan’s 2001 shutdown, SunMine began operation in 2015 as B.C.’s first grid source of solar electricity. But declining revenues in recent years prodded the municipality into negotiations with the company, resulting in a $2-million payment that meets Kimberley’s SunMine-related debt.

Teck gets brownfields green energy project with re-acquisition of legendary mine

Affluent travelers can lap up luxury at
a former open pit near Shanghai airport.
(Photo: InterContinental Hotels and Resorts)

An 1892 discovery that became a major zinc-lead-silver producer, Sullivan was taken over in 1910 by Cominco, which merged with Teck in 2001. During Kimberley’s tourist season, visitors can take an open air train ride into the former underground operation.

Numerous former industrial sites have been refashioned into green energy production, notably the solar farm that opened at Chernobyl in 2018. In other cases reclaimed land hosts recreational facilities, such as the ski resort on the surface area of North Star, another Kimberley silver-lead mine.

Former open pits and underground workings have also been put to new uses. Billed as the world’s first underground hotel when it opened in 2018, the Shanghai Wonderland rises just two storeys above a former andesite quarry that contains the other 16 floors.

Some underground examples reported by the Smithsonian consist of cycling, zip-lining and ATV riding. More fanciful uses, however, include a onetime Polish salt mine that’s now a resort offering a “subterraneotherapy” spa as well as “religious services, adventure tours, art galleries, a museum and two underground hotels.”

A former Romanian salt mine now features “a surreal theme park complete with a Ferris wheel, mini-golf course, a lake with paddle boats, a bowling alley, an amphitheater, sports fields and ping pong tables.”

Apart from supplying grid power, Teck gets 81% of its own electricity consumption from renewable sources, the company stated. “Our involvement with SunMine is part of our commitment to taking action on climate change, advancing renewable energy development and supporting the global transition to a low-carbon economy,” said president/CEO Don Lindsay.

More contentiously, the company now has its proposed $20.6-billion Frontier oilsands mine awaiting a federal decision. In July a joint federal/provincial environmental review recommended approval but Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson has suggested his cabinet might reject the Alberta project.

 

A 1993 episode of Gold Trails and Ghost Towns discusses the Sullivan mine.

Open and shut cases: West

December 20th, 2019

A look at the western provinces’ mine openings and closures for 2019 and 2020

by Greg Klein

A look at the western provinces’ mine openings and closures for 2019 and 2020

Western Potash began Saskatchewan’s first solution mining operation for this commodity in July.
(Photo: Western Potash)

 

This is Part 2 of a four-part series.

The Exxon Valdez of Canadian mining went into dry dock at the end of May, as Imperial Metals TSX:III put its Mount Polley copper-gold operation on care and maintenance. The company that traded above $16.50 prior to the August 2014 tailings dam failure spent most of 2019 well below $3. Now holding two suspended mines, the company’s operational portfolio has dwindled to a 30% stake in B.C.’s Red Chris copper-gold open pits. In August Imperial sold the other 70% to ASX-listed Newcrest Mining for US$775 million.

But if human error can dump eight million cubic metres of tailings muck into the waterways, human ingenuity can respond. As the five-year anniversary approached, Geoscience BC founding president/CEO and Imperial’s former chief scientific officer ’Lyn Anglin offered her perspective on the $70-million clean-up program, which continues during the mine’s suspension.

 

Maybe its status as Canada’s largest diversified miner leaves Teck Resources TSX:TECK.A/TSX:TECK.B open to greater diversity in downturns. The company blamed global economic uncertainties for “a significant negative effect on the prices for our products, particularly steelmaking coal.” But the company attributes its most recent coal mine closures not to market forces but to depletion. That was the verdict for the mid-year shutdown of B.C.’s Coal Mountain and for Alberta’s Cardinal River, scheduled to follow in mid-2020.

A look at the western provinces’ mine openings and closures for 2019 and 2020

Some depleted mines notwithstanding, Teck Resources
has over four decades of B.C. coal reserves.
(Photo: Teck Resources)

Although Teck warned employees in September of layoffs, noting a price drop from about $210 to about $130 per tonne over the previous weeks, further mine closures weren’t specified. Depletion hardly concerns Teck’s four remaining Kootenay-region coal operations. The company says there’s enough steelmaking stuff to keep Line Creek, Greenhills, Elkview and Fording River busy for 18, 28, 38 and 43 years respectively.

While the company now focuses on its Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 copper development project in Chile and its JV at the port of Vancouver’s Neptune terminal, Teck’s $20-billion proposal for Alberta might serve as an affront to the great cause of our time. In July Teck managed to get a recommendation of approval from a joint federal/provincial environmental review panel for its Frontier oilsands project. Media reports, however, suggest Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and his cabinet might reject the panel’s recommendation.

 

Whether it brought relief or astonishment to local supporters, in July Western Potash finally began building its long-delayed Milestone potash project in southern Saskatchewan.

A look at the western provinces’ mine openings and closures for 2019 and 2020

A determined-looking Western Potash group
celebrates a milestone in Saskatchewan mining.
(Photo: Western Potash)

Expectations had risen and fallen a few too many times since at least 2015, when the company announced it had secured funds sufficient for a scaled-down capex. But in October Western began solution mining, the first application of this method for potash in Saskatchewan. The innovative operation will also be “the first potash mine in the world that will leave no salt tailings on the surface, thereby significantly reducing water consumption.”

Now a subsidiary of Western Resources TSX:WRX, the company plans “hot mining” early in the new year to pump brine containing potassium chloride into a crystallization pond at surface, leaving unwanted sodium chloride underground. By Q3 2020 a newly built plant will process the potash for an off-take agreement covering all Phase I production. Phase II calls for expanded operations to support an average 146,000 tpa output over a 12-year life.

 

Yet the mine starts up amid cutbacks and shutdowns elsewhere. The province’s big three potash producers, Nutrien TSX:NTR, Mosaic NYSE:MOS and K+S Potash Canada, all reduced output in 2019. Between them, Nutrien and Mosaic suspended four operations, at least one indefinitely.

In August workers at Mosaic’s Colonsay operation learned of an indefinite layoff, reportedly to last anywhere from six months to a matter of years. Further discouragement came in November when the United Steelworkers confirmed that the company was moving equipment from Colonsay to its Esterhazy operation, itself subject to reduced output.

A look at the western provinces’ mine openings and closures for 2019 and 2020

Saskatchewan’s tallest structure stands over a shaft reaching
more than a kilometre underground at Mosaic’s Esterhazy K3.
(Photo: Mosaic)

Esterhazy’s ambitious K3 expansion project, however, continues unfazed by current market conditions. With construction started in 2011, commissioning begun in December 2018 and full production not scheduled until 2024, the new underground operation will replace Esterhazy’s K1 and K2 mines, keeping the K1 and K2 mills busy at the world’s largest potash mining complex.

In September Nutrien announced it would “proactively” suspend its Allan, Lanigan and Vanscoy potash mines. Workers at the first two got December 29 recall notices, but Vanscoy’s resumption has yet to be revealed.

Nevertheless, company bosses expressed optimistic 2020 foresight. It will be “a strong year for crop input demand for which we are well-positioned to benefit,” predicted Nutrien president/CEO Chuck Magro. His Mosaic counterpart Joc O’Rourke expects “a very strong application season in Brazil and North America, and a better supply and demand balance in 2020.” .

 

That year or the next just might be momentous for Saskatchewan potash. BHP Group NYSE:BHP’s board of directors has until February 2021 to decide whether to complete Jansen, a $17-billion project that would challenge the province’s potash protocol.

The threat of competition might take an unexpected turn, however. As reported in the Financial Post, at least two analysts say rival companies could attack pre-emptively by boosting production to lower prices and discourage new mine development.

 

Holding top positions globally are Saskatchewan as potash-producing jurisdiction and Saskatoon-headquartered Nutrien as potash miner. The province also boasts world stature for uranium but has no new U3O8 operations expected during this survey’s time frame. Even so, industry and investors watch with interest as Denison Mines TSX:DML, NexGen Energy TSX:NXE and Fission Uranium TSX:FCU each proceed with advanced large-scale projects.

This is Part 2 of a four-part series.

Infographics: The United States and the new energy era’s lithium-ion supply chain

December 11th, 2019

by Nicholas LePan | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | December 11, 2019

The world is rapidly shifting to renewable energy technologies. Battery minerals are set to become the new oil, with lithium-ion battery supply chains becoming the new pipelines.

China is currently leading this lithium-ion battery revolution—leaving our neighbour to the south dependent on its economic rival. However, the harsh lessons of the 1970s-to-’80s oil crises have increased pressure on the U.S. to develop its own domestic energy supply chain and gain access to key battery metals.

Introducing the new energy era

This infographic from Standard Lithium TSXV:SLL explores the current energy landscape and America’s position in the new energy era.

 

The new energy era’s lithium-ion supply chain

 

An energy dependence problem

Energy dependence is the degree of a nation’s reliance on imported energy, resulting from an insufficient domestic supply. Oil crises during the 1970s to ’80s revealed America’s reliance on foreign-produced oil, especially from the Middle East.

The U.S. economy ground to a halt when gas prices soared during the 1973 oil crisis—altering consumer behavior and energy policy for generations. In the aftermath of the crisis, the government imposed national speed limits to conserve oil, and also demanded cheaper, smaller and more fuel-efficient cars.

U.S. administrations set an objective to wean America off foreign oil through “energy independence”—the ability to meet the country’s fuel needs using domestic resources.

Lessons learned?

Spurred by technological breakthroughs such as hydraulic fracking, the U.S. now has the capacity to respond to high oil prices by ramping up domestic production.

By the end of 2019, total U.S. oil production could rise to 17.4 million barrels a day. At that level, American net imports of petroleum could fall in December 2019 to 320,000 barrels a day, the lowest since 1949.

In fact, the successful development of America’s shale fields is a key reason why the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has lost most of its influence over the supply and price of oil.

A renewable future: Turning the ship

The increasing scarcity of economic oil and gas fields, combined with the negative environmental impacts of oil and the declining costs of renewable power, are creating a new energy supply and demand dynamic.

Oil demand could drop by 16.5 million barrels per day. Oil producers could face significant losses, with $380 billion of above-ground investments becoming worthless if the oil industry and oil-rich nations are not prepared for a surge in green energy by 2030.

Energy companies are hedging their risk with increased investment in renewables. The world’s top 24 publicly listed oil companies spent on average 1.3% of their total budgets on low carbon technology in 2018, amounting to $260 billion. That is double the 0.68% the same group had invested on average through the period of 2010 and 2017.

The new geopolitics of energy: battery minerals

Low carbon technologies for the new energy era are also creating a demand for specific materials and new supply chains that can procure them.

Renewable and low carbon technology will be mineral-intensive, requiring many metals such as lithium, cobalt, graphite and nickel. These are key raw materials, and demand will only grow.

 

Material 2018 2028 2018-2028 % growth
Graphite anode in batteries 170,000 tonnes 2.05M tonnes 1,106%
Lithium in batteries 150,000 tonnes 1.89M tonnes 1,160%
Nickel in batteries 82,000 tonnes 1.09M tonnes 1,229%
Cobalt in batteries 58,000 tonnes 320,000 tonnes 452%

(Source: Benchmark Minerals Intelligence)

 

The cost of these materials is the largest factor in battery technology and will determine whether battery supply chains succeed or fail.

China currently dominates the lithium-ion battery supply chain and could continue to do so. This leaves the U.S. dependent on China in this new era.

Could history repeat itself?

The battery metals race

There are five stages in a lithium-ion battery supply chain—and the U.S. holds a smaller percentage of the global supply chain than China at nearly every stage.

 

The new energy era’s lithium-ion supply chain

 

China’s dominance of the global battery supply chain creates a competitive advantage that the U.S. has no choice but to rely on.

However, this can still be prevented if the U.S. moves fast. From natural resources, human capital and technology, the U.S. can build its own domestic supply.

Building the U.S. battery supply chain

The U.S. relies heavily on imports of several key materials necessary for a lithium-ion battery supply chain.

 

U.S. net import dependence
Lithum 50%
Cobalt 72%
Graphite 100%

(Source: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management)

 

But the U.S. is making strides to secure its place in the new energy era. The American Minerals Security Act seeks to identify the resources necessary to secure America’s mineral independence.

The government has also released a list of 35 minerals it deems critical to the national interest.

Declaring U.S. battery independence

A supply chain starts with raw materials, and the U.S. has the resources necessary to build its own battery supply chain. This would help the country avoid supply disruptions like those seen during the oil crises in the 1970s.

Battery metals are becoming the new oil and supply chains the new pipelines. It is still early in this new energy era, and the victors are yet to be determined in the battery arms race.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

See European Union pledges €3.2 billion for lithium-ion R&D.