Residents of the area surrounding the proposed Yancoal mine gathered Tuesday afternoon in Earl Grey to voice their opposition to the project. (image from CBC News site )
From an enthusiastic note in a Kijiji notice posted by someone in Ontario who wants to sell his mineral rights for $1000 per acre to cash in on the Yancoal potash interest in the region north of Regina:
"Saskatchewan is already well known for its potash mining and now another massive, multi-billion dollar project could soon be developed north of Regina.
Chinese-based Yancoal has been exploring and studying a potential site about halfway between Southey and Strasbourg. The company recently carried on to the feasibility stage.
"It looks pretty promising," said Strasbourg Mayor Ken Swanston.
Swanston indicated Yancoal is getting pretty close to the start of construction. He figures shovels could be in the ground as soon as next year. The company's website confirms that plan, with the mine scheduled to be in operation by 2020. Their goal is to produce 2.8 million tonnes of potash annually.
"The longevity of the mine, they figure it'll last anywhere between 65 and 100 years," said Swanston. "We're hopeful around here in Strasbourg that we get some spinoffs, and I'm sure Southey as well, whether it be for housing or shopping."
I don't know everything there is to know about Yancoal but many people in the Southey--Earl Grey region, especially those without land or mineral rights they want to sell, are upset and feel the Province is not listening. (See this CBC story when the Province approved the environmental assessment for Yancoal in August.)
Nearby, in Fort Qu'Appelle, the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association has opposed the project citing concerns over the amount of water the mine will use and the likelihood of contamination to watersheds.
Living in a dry land with a vulnerable and limited water supply, everyone in Southern Saskatchewan should be worried about letting a Chinese company use 11 to 12 million cubic metres of water annually from the Buffalo Pound reservoir to dissolve potash.
At the same time, town administrators in Southey and Earl Grey are boosters for the project and a small number of area farmers like the idea.
For some insight into the people who are in favour of the Yancoal project, take a look at the following guest post from Braden Schmidt, a farmer in the Earl Grey area who speaks to a common concern for wildlife and habitat that may be affected by the Yancoal project:
Yancoal Canada Resources Co. is a subsidiary mining company of Yanzhou Coal Mining Co., owned by the government of China. With the support of the Saskatchewan government, they are charging forward with plans to build a solution mine on top of local farmers north of Earl Grey in the Rural Municipality of Longlaketon #219. With world-wide operations in China, Australia, and South America, Yanzhou has the capital to bribe locals with enormous sums of money. And that is exactly what they have done.
One farming family sold several quarters of land to Yancoal for as high as $720,000 per quarter, well beyond what neighbors would be able or willing to pay. That is about five times the current market value of farmland for the area where a good quarter could fetch anywhere from $120,000 - $150,000. Any farmer can quickly confirm that commodity prices have not jumped in price by five times, nor have input costs dropped by this factor. This payout is certainly a boon for those who own the land desired by Yancoal, but what about the remaining landowners who want to continue their operation? Many of these are multi-generational family farms with a deep commitment to their rural lifestyle and community. For some it would not be so easy to take the cash, uproot their lives, and move away. For others it would be downright out of the question. Farmers stuck with the land in the surrounding area will have to contend with the air pollution, increased noise and traffic, and groundwater contamination.
"What happens when the cement drill casing fails and salty brine enters the pristine water table?"
Yancoal insists that their extraction methods will not endanger the integrity of the Hatfield aquifer, which provides drinking water for not only the community and several towns but also their livestock. What happens when the cement drill casing fails and salty brine enters the pristine water table?
Needless to say, the mining proposition has caused some contention among landowners as Yancoal continues to drive the community apart on this issue. Yancoal is not here for the good of the people of Earl Grey, Strasbourg and Southey. They don’t actually care about any of us despite what your gullible neighbor may be telling you. They are a large, faceless, foreign mining company and will do whatever it takes to get that potash on a train and send it to the Port of Vancouver. Despite increasing opposition to Yancoal from local landowners, the project seems poised to move forward.
|three whooping cranes were spotted this past spring near the Yancoal site. (This lovely image courtesy of the ever-generous Kim Mann)|
However, a sighting of whooping cranes near the proposed mine site last spring may provide yet another reason to stop Yancoal. The cranes were spotted in April 2016 resting on their route from their wintering grounds in Texas to Wood Buffalo National Park. They came very close to extinction in the 1940’s when only 20 individuals remained on the entire planet. The population has recovered with a rigorous captive breeding program but they are still considered critically endangered.
Unlike mining, grain and livestock production can still occur without completely wiping out the landscape and polluting aquifers. It is sad that locals need to seek out endangered species to provide a solid platform on which to argue their right to continue farming and uphold their rural lifestyle.
The farmers and locals of RM #219 don’t necessarily have to be bird enthusiasts or conservationists to appreciate what the occurrence of these critically endangered species might mean for their community as they continue to struggle with a foreign bully such as Yancoal. The protection of wildlife habitat may not be near the top of the list for reasons not to develop a mining project but it should be.
If there is something to learn from the visit of the whooping cranes, it is that the local people have maintained agricultural land that supports wildlife, even endangered species. Placing it in the hands of a Chinese mining company with a poor environmental record puts that agricultural land, and any habitat it provides, at risk.
|another great photo courtesy of Kim Mann|