Nutrien highlights safety and technology after Sask. mine shaft malfunction

Click to play video: 'Going underground with Nutrien’s potash crews'
Going underground with Nutrien’s potash crews
WATCH ABOVE: Going underground with Nutrien’s potash crews – Aug 12, 2019

Staff at Nutrien’s Cory potash mine offered an up-close look at the facility on Monday — one month after a mine shaft malfunction left 34 workers stuck underground.

Susan Jones, Nutrien’s CEO of potash, explained how a cable became caught in the tail ropes of the mine’s elevator. Company officials asked workers to wait patiently in the mine before they were extracted the following day.

READ MORE: 34 workers stranded in Saskatchewan potash mine safely above ground

“There was no underground emergency that was going on at that time,” Jones said at the Vanscoy, Sask., facility.

After taking the same elevator shaft one kilometre underground, media used electric vehicles to traverse some of the nearly 70 kilometres of underground tunnels.

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Part of the tour included a stop at one of 36 refuge stations, typically used as a shelter when an underground fire threatens air quality. Each station consists of an airtight door, chairs and supplies.

The last fire at the Cory mine was four years ago.

“We have different abilities to set off a fire alarm, and so any time a fire alarm is pulled, people will come to refuge,” said Leon Boehm, general manager of the Cory site.

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Wi-Fi is available throughout the mine, allowing for constant contact between miners and staff above ground. Devices like iPads and smartphones are continually integrated into everyday work.

Even with increasing automation, Cory still requires 375 staff members to make everything work.

Larry Long, Nutrien’s vice-president of operations, said there’s an ongoing effort to reduce power consumption while producing more potash for a growing market.

Production at the Cory mine began in 1968, but it still has more than 100 years of minerals to be harvested, Long said. The deposit extends north as far as the Battlefords, he said.

“Any commodity would die to have reserves like we have here in Saskatchewan,” he said. “These are world-class deposits.”

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As the technology behind mining changes, so do the people doing the work.

Jones described increasing workplace diversity as one of Nutrien’s “key priorities.” Currently, 28 per cent of workers in technical roles are women. Indigenous employees make up 16 per cent of the Cory mine’s workforce.

“We know that having a diversity of thought … is going to be critical,” Jones said.

Potash made up 20 per cent of Saskatchewan’s exports in 2018, second only to crude oil.

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