Mar 182011

Photo by Linda Kor Passport Potash President Joshua Bleak addressed guests of a luncheon held in the Holbrook Basin. The project promises to provide hundreds of good paying jobs to the area.

By Linda Kor —

A crowd of approximately 100 people drove 12 miles east of Holbrook Monday to participate in a meet and greet arranged by Passport Potash officials regarding their Holbrook Basin mining project. Aside from individuals associated with Passport, the gathering included city and county officials from Apache and Na-vajo counties, interested business owners, and investors from across the U.S. and Asia.

The event was staged with canopies and tables arranged in an open field and a light luncheon provided as Passport President Joshua Bleak, mine engineer Allen Wells and Clay Myers of K-M Drilling addressed guests.

Bleak explained that Passport has current holdings of more than 100 square miles in the basin and holds permits for a total of 24 drill holes. The product to be mined, potash, has its primary use in fertilizers as one of three primary nutrients necessary for proper plant growth. It is used worldwide.

“There’s not a lot of potash mined in the U.S. We are one of the largest consumers, though, and import 90 percent of the potash we use,” explained Bleak. “This would make the Holbrook Basin an excellent regional supplier. Holbrook is the conversation of everyone in the industry at this time.”

Currently there are only two major potash mining production locations in the U.S., one in New Mexico and the other in Utah. In each of those states operations began in the 1930s, and they have limited opportunity for continued expansion. According to Bleak, the Holbrook Basin operation has the potential to be at least a 100-year endeavor that would bring generational employment to residents in the area and throughout the state.

As Wells addressed the crowd regarding the project, he stated that in the Holbrook Basin the potash hori-zon lies approximately 1,200 feet below the ground. The exploration program for this year consists of a seis-mic survey that is conducted by dropping heavy weights to the ground to create vibrations, then measuring the sound waves. In conjunction with the seismic survey, 16 rotary drill and four core holes are being drilled. It is estimated that the program will be completed by May, and will reveal the depth and quantity of the prod-uct, providing information that will help to create a map of how the mining project will be laid out.

“This is unlike anything ever seen in Arizona. This is an environmental friendly operation with a byprod-uct of road salt. It has the potential for 1,000 to 1,500 construction jobs, and 300 to 500 full-time jobs that will provide an annual salary of around $70,000,” stated Bleak.

“We are working to partner with the high schools and the local college to produce qualified people for these positions. These positions aren’t just for the mining, it’s for first aid, ground staff and other positions,” he stated, adding that another benefit is that this would be a year-round operation due to the milder climate of the region.

According to Wells, there are two types of mining that can be utilized in the Holbrook Basin. One is un-derground mining that would consist of a shaft constructed from the surface, allowing workers and equipment underground. The miners would go down the shaft in a cage and travel through the underground tunnels in special four-wheel drive vehicles. As the ore is cultivated, it is cut up and broken into smaller pieces, then moved by belts to the shaft, where it is crushed and lifted to the surface, where the salt would be separated from the potash.

Another type of mining is solution mining, in which multiple wells are drilled with one well drilled down to the brine horizon and the others used as return wells. Hot water is then pumped down the first well, dis-solving the potash and other salts into a brine fluid. The solution is then forced up the return well into an evaporation pond. The water evaporates and the minerals condense for final processing.

Wells was quick to point out that while other types of mining use cyanide or acids to flush out minerals, in mining potash, the only solution that will be used is salt and water.

When asked where the water would come from for the project, Wells referred to the aquifer that runs be-neath the earth’s surface. “With the current drilling that we’re doing the aquifer is pumping 200 gallons per minute. We would be pumping 2,000 gallons per minute to provide the solution for the mine,” he stated.

Once the product is ready for transport to market, there would be two options available. For transport within the country, trucks would be utilized and routed along State Route 180 to Interstate 40. For transport to foreign countries, a railroad spur would be added from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad to carry the product to the Port of Long Beach, Calif.

Wells emphasized that an archeological and plant survey has been completed on both the private and state lands being utilized by the company. “We were required by the state to do the survey on state lands, and we chose to have an internal survey conducted on the private lands and found nothing,” he explained.

Bleak also announced that Passport Potash had just finalized a cooperative agreement with the Hopi Tribe regarding portions of the project that are adjacent to land privately owned by the tribe, none of which is reser-vation land. The agreements sets up a cooperative arrangement between Passport and the Hopi Tribe that will give Passport access across the approximately 18 sections of the Hopi lands, creating a continuous block of land to the south and southwest to conduct exploration activities while allowing the tribe to share in Pass-port’s study results. This agreement presents the potential of creating two separate mine sites.

Holbrook Mayor Jeff Hill, Taylor Town Manager Eric Duthie and District I Navajo County Supervisor J.R. DeSpain offered their support for the project during the meeting.

“We have nine cities in two counties and we are here for you. We have a lot of available labor with people who have no problem with a commute. Whatever resources we can provide we will,” stated Duthie.

Hill commented that Holbrook is 100 percent behind the project and is anticipating taking smart growth measures as a commitment of support.

Bleak anticipates that construction for the project will begin in approximately three years, with the actual mining to begin in approximately five years.