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Project Albany given conditional go-ahead

September 9, 2019
Stew Coles
Saskatchewan grasslands

Project Albany given conditional go-ahead

September 9, 2019 – Eden Friesen, CPAWS Saskatchewan 

As many of you are aware, CanPacific Potash’s “Project Albany” has been granted conditional environmental assessment approval by the Government of Saskatchewan as of August 27th, 2019. 

In May of 2019, CPAWS Saskatchewan (and several hundred concerned citizens) sent letters to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment to express concerns about the project’s environmental impact—particularly the dangers that a new mine would present to some of Saskatchewan’s few remaining (and very fragile) wild grassland ecosystems. 

The project, located in the Sedley-Francis area, would be a solution mine producing 3.25 million tonnes of potash each year. 

Can-Pacific Potash is a partnership between Russian fertilizer giant JSC Acron and a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, a giant mining company notorious for its lengthy environmental rap sheet. 

Our Original Concerns: 

In our analysis of CanPacific’s original environmental impact assessment (EIA), we were alarmed to find that the proposed project would harm or destroy up to 6,000 hectares (14,800 acres) of increasingly rare grassland, wetland and riparian (creek valley slopes) habitat in the upper Wascana Creek watershed near the towns of Sedley and Francis. 

Saskatchewan has already lost approximately 86.7% of its native grasslands, placing dozens of prairie species in jeopardy. This project has the potential to impact populations of several at-risk birds such as the Loggerhead Shrike, the Long-billed Curlew, the Short-eared Owl, and the Ferruginous Hawk as well as the American Badger and the Northern Leopard Frog, among nearly 150 species of wildlife using the lands

The current iteration of the proposal will see the plant site cover about 900 hectares, mostly on cultivated land—but it will still destroy about 70 hectares of wetlands. The well field area also still includes areas of wild pastureland and wetland.

The project’s proposed well field area, still to be formally laid out, would likely fragment, disturb and strip surface vegetation from about 4,394 ha of pasture/grassland, 1,002 ha of wetland, and 802 ha of riparian habitat to build roads, pipelines and well sites to pump the water they need to extract potash

The Government-Approved EIA: 

The EIA approval, signed by Minister of Environment Dustin Duncan is conditional at this time. It must meet a number of mitigation and compensation conditions before CanPacific Potash is allowed to proceed with Project Albany. 

Among the specific criteria that the project must meet before they can proceed are the following stipulations: 

  1. The project must not impact public pastureland or public grassland
  2. The project site must avoid Wascana Creek and its tributaries 
  3. Compensation and landscape recovery must be undertaken for any lost wetland, grassland, or pasture habitat 
  4. There can be no negative impact to the local water supply quality 

In addition, they still need approval from the rural municipality, the Water Security Agency, the Ministry of Highways, and the Ministry of Energy and Resources. 

If wetlands and grasslands are going to be impacted by the project, CanPacific Potash is under obligation to restore or replace any damaged landscapes. 

Some still hope to halt Albany in its tracks

Despite the above criteria that are meant to mitigate environmental harm, fears abound that the mine will cause irreparable harm to the landscape and its ecosystems, as well as the environment at large. 

In a written statement, Trevor Harriet (spokesperson for Public Pastures—Public Interest) asks: 

“How can this government justify a project that will salinize and permanently remove millions of cubic metres of water from the Qu’Appelle Watershed while destroying habitat for 146 species of prairie wildlife and plants, including 13 species at risk, and releasing untold tons of greenhouse gases?”

Trevor Harriet

If the $4-billion project is given a go-ahead, operations will likely not begin until at least 2025 and will have a 70 year lifespan. 

It is our job as concerned citizens to watch the project closely as it proceeds to ensure that CanPacific Potash is held accountable for the promises that it has made to put the environment first and restore any habitat that it destroys. 

You can read more about the project here, here, and here