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Potash Speculation in SE Utah

February 08, 2016
by John Weisheit

REPORT: A Look at Eastern Utah's Potash Industry


A great depth lies layers of gypsum, salt and potash, a 300 million year old remnant of evaporated sea water accumulating over time in a trapped basin near a coastal mountain range. the remnant of ocean water trapped in a a coastal Topline message
Its time we take a hard look at potash mining in Eastern Utah. It makes absolutely no sense to gamble away our water supplies on potash mining speculation.

Thank goodness the BLM is taking a hard look at potash mining and the impacts it would have to our land and water in Eastern Utah.

Unfortunately, this issue  like so many others seems to be glossed over in the Bishop Public Lands Initiative. In fact, the PLI would turn the clock back and legislate a Bush-era plan that places more than 4.6 billion gallons of water at risk to speculative potash mining.

We can do better for Eastern Utah and the Colorado River.

About potash mining

  • There are two main methods for developing potash  solar evaporation and crystallization. Both require enormous quantities of water.
  • Utah produced about 210,000 tons of potash in 2014, less than 1% of the total global supply.


Water talking points

  • The PLI and the current plan on the books would increase potash mining by about 160,000 tons per year, which could take up as much as 4.6 billion gallons of water. Thats more than 3 times the amount of water used by every resident in Grand and San Juan counties.
  • The BLMs preferred plan would still allow for increased potash mining by about 90,000 tons per year. Even that more modest proposal would require 2.8 billion gallons of water each year.
  • Potash development would put additional strain on the Colorado River that we cant afford. According to the Bureau of Reclamation, weve been over-appropriating water on the Colorado River since 2003. More importantly, nearly $70 billion of Utahs gross state product (overall state economic output) is dependent on the Colorado River.
Economics
  • It would take nearly $3 billion in capital to see the big economic returns forecasted in the BLM plan. Thats more than 3.5 times the current economic output of all of Grand and San Juan counties.
  • Lets say that the capital for new potash mining did materialize. It would still generate less economic activity than what BLM anticipates would come from recreation.
  • The potash market is highly unstable. The current price is about $300/ton  down from a high of more than $900/ton in 2008.
  • Financial analysts predict that potash prices will continue to drop over the coming year.
  • Even with past wild upswings in price, potash development remained flat in Eastern Utah. Many of the current leases on the books have been there for decades.
Solutions

There are three important ways to do it right when it comes to potash:

  • Zoning
  • Implement a phased leasing and concentrate on existing leases.
  • Require leases be diligently developed. Speculation locks up land that could and should otherwise be considered for other uses.
  • Dont allow potash mining where it doesnt belong.

 

Proof of economic viability
  • Lessee demonstrates a positive rate of return after costs.
  • Include strong reclamation requirements, given the poor history of abandoned mines across the West.


Best Management Practices

  • Ensuring mines meet all state and federal environmental laws.
  • Prohibit mining w/in view of Arches and Canyonlands.
  • Require transparency on water sources and impacts.
  • Minimize waste and surface disturbances
  • Require operators to provide plans for minimizing impacts to air and water.
Moab MLP / BLMs draft plan
  • In regards to the BLMs draft plan for Moab  they are on the right track. Its still probably too permissive. However, they are taking a thoughtful approach on how and where leasing occurs.
  • That said, the BLM should eliminate the Red Wash potash leasing areas located immediately adjacent to the Green River to protect riparian and riparian-related values.  Also, the Ten Mile and Hatch Point potash leasing areas should be eliminated or, at a minimum, contracted to eliminate conflicts with wilderness caliber landscapes.

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