Mining for Solutions

Used primarily as a fertilizer, potash is a high-value mineral that exceeds 58 million tonnes in production per year worldwide—approximately 18 million of which comes from Canadian sources.

An interior view of the “slimes thickener,” a
completely stainless-steel structure designed to
remove impurities from the potash.

Construction in progress on the Agrium VAULT
project. More than 730,000 cubic yards of earth was
removed—enough to fill 224 olympic-sized
swimming pools—and more than 20,000 tons of
steel was used in the mine expansion.

The Agrium potash mine in Vanscoy, Saskatchewan, is a major contributor to the potash industry in Canada, and with the implementation of Project VAULT (VAnscoy ULTimate Expansion), the mine will have the capacity to make an even greater contribution.
The joint venture between PCL and SNC-Lavalin involved the expansion of the existing mine from a production capacity of two million tonnes per year to three million tonnes. This 50 percent projected increase will see the mine reach its ultimate capacity—and ensure the efficient extraction of potash for years to come.

Carving out Efficiencies

When planning the expansion of an existing mine, the approach is often to increase the size and capacity of the old systems and equipment, and to work in and around existing infrastructure. This did not make sense at Vanscoy, where salt corrosion from years of potash extraction meant that it would be very challenging to modify and upgrade the old facilities to make way for the new equipment without disrupting production operations.
A working mine is a profitable mine, so the team put forward a solution that allowed for the new structure to be built next to the existing one and then the two tied together in the final stages of the project. This enabled Agrium to remain operational and continue to mine potash throughout the three-year-plus construction schedule.
This solution was mirrored throughout the project, as alternative design approaches were proposed at each new phase that would minimize disruption to the plant. As an example, the existing main raw-ore feed conveyor was scheduled to be revamped and its capacity increased. Instead of replacing the existing structure, the team recommended a new conveyor be installed alongside the old, which resulted in increased efficiency and fewer disruptions to mine activity.

A Comprehensive Approach to Labor

Also challenging was the sheer number of people it took to realize Agrium’s vision. With approximately 4,000 individuals required to complete this project, the group had their work cut out for them.
PCL is a family of companies made up of a number of operating districts. Seven of those districts were engaged on this project, each having its own craft and staff resources. Access to these diverse regional resources, and to previously established relationships with craft personnel from across Canada, enabled the team to successfully attract and mobilize large numbers of people to the site at Vanscoy. The team also developed recruitment strategies to utilize labor from other markets when there were gaps in the availability of locally and regionally sourced labor.
A complex schedule provided the framework for this massive team to work day and night, seven days a week, bringing Project VAULT to fruition with minimal disruption to existing operational facilities and successful commissioning and start-up efforts for Agrium.

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