When one thinks of the major international mining regions, Saskatchewan isn’t a name that immediately leaps to mind. Yet, the Canadian province continually comes out near the top of leading mining destinations in annual surveys conducted with global mining executives.
Best known locally for its rich waterways – which make up 10% of its land mass – Saskatchewan is also home to two of the most desirable minerals in the world – potash and uranium. The province has the largest potash industry in the world, accounting for about 45% of annual global production and hosting nearly half of the world’s known reserves. The world’s largest high-grade uranium deposits are located in northern Saskatchewan, which accounted for 13% of the world’s primary uranium production in 2019.
In 2019, the value of Saskatchewan’s mineral sales was C$7.4B – the fourth highest in Canada. Exploration expenditures in 2019 were C$264M, and a survey, undertaken prior to the COVID-19 crisis, indicated exploration spending intentions of C$242M in 2020. Despite the economic challenges associated with the global COVID-19 pandemic, Saskatchewan’s mining sales, particularly in potash, remain strong. In 2020, they generated C$6B. The provincial mining sector accounts for more than 11% of Saskatchewan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and supports more than 12,000 jobs across the province. In March 2022, the value of Saskatchewan’s total mineral sales were C$1.7B, an increase of 202.6% compared to March 2021.
Leading Canadian mining jurisdiction
While Saskatchewan may not have the natural golden riches of Canadian regions such as Ontario and Quebec, the province continues to be rated as the nation’s most attractive mining destination. The highly regarded Fraser Institute annual survey of mining investment jurisdictions recently placed Saskatchewan as the clear leader amongst Canadian mining regions and only second to Western Australia on the list of most attractive jurisdiction worldwide for mining investment. The Canadian independent, non-partisan public policy think-tank’s annual report ranked 84 jurisdictions around the world based on their geologic attractiveness (minerals and metals) and government policies that encourage or discourage exploration and investment.
“The Fraser Institute’s mining survey is the most comprehensive report on government policies that either encourages or discourages mining investment, and Saskatchewan remains not only the top choice in Canada, but second overall globally,” said Elmira Aliakbari, director of the Fraser Institute’s Centre for Natural Resource Studies and co-author of the study.
The Annual Survey of Mining Companies found that on the Overall Investment Attractiveness Index, Saskatchewan ranked in the global top three for the fourth time in five years (having jumped from third in 2020 to second in 2021), followed by Quebec at sixth, and the Yukon (also jumped from 18th last year to ninth this year).
“A sound and predictable regulatory regime coupled with competitive fiscal policies help make a jurisdiction attractive in the eyes of mining investors,” Ms Aliakbari said.
Saskatchewan has also been recognized by the Mining Journal Intelligence World Risk Report as the number-one global jurisdiction for mining investment opportunity. The same report also awarded Saskatchewan an AAA rating for overall investment—one of only two jurisdictions to achieve this.
Government support remains strong
In order to encourage and attract investment, Saskatchewan has established several incentive programmes in the minerals sector, such as:
- The Targeted Mineral Exploration Incentive – a 25% rebate on eligible drilling costs in a region of high potential for base metals, precious metals, and diamonds
- The Saskatchewan Mineral Exploration Tax Credit – a non-refundable 10% tax credit to Saskatchewan taxpayers who invest in eligible flow-through shares issued by mining or exploration companies
- A 10-year royalty holiday for new gold and base metal mines
- A five-year incorporation tax rebate for mineral processing
Saskatchewan’s Growth Plan has set goals to reach C$9B in potash sales and C$2B in uranium sales by 2030.
Hunt for critical minerals
While potash and uranium dominate Saskatchewan’s mineral output, Saskatchewan has been found to contain 23 of the 31 critical minerals Canada has identified as essential for global economic security, a growing population and a low-carbon future. With growing demand for the metals and minerals needed to transition to a clean energy economy, and increased focus on sustainable supply chains, Saskatchewan companies are increasing exploration for critical minerals.
“Saskatchewan is a global leader in potash and uranium production, an emerging producer of helium and lithium, and home to over 20 critical minerals, including rare earth elements such as cerium, lanthanum, praseodymium and neodymium,” Energy and Resources Minister Bronwyn Eyre said.
“There are exciting opportunities ahead for mineral exploration in our province, as the mining sector continues to innovate and grow,” the minister said.
Significantly, Saskatchewan has been recognized as having potential for economic occurrences of a variety of Rare Earth Elements (REEs) and other critical minerals. Further along the value chain, the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) is building a C$31M Rare Earth Processing Facility in Saskatoon. Slated for completion in the autumn of 2022, it is the first of its kind in Canada and is intended to establish a REE technology hub in the province. The facility will process ores such as monazite sands into cerium, lanthanum, praseodymium, and neodymium for sale. The Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) is working with the mining industry to secure ore supplies both from within the province and elsewhere.
There are exciting opportunities ahead for mineral exploration in our province, as the mining sector continues to innovate and grow
Meanwhile, Appia Rare Earths & Uranium Corp. (CNSX: API) and CanmetMINING are working on a metallurgical collaboration focused on beneficiation testwork for the Alces Lake Rare Earth Project in Saskatchewan.
The Alces Lake project, located in northern Saskatchewan, encompasses some of the highest-grade total and critical REEs and gallium mineralization in the world, hosted within a number of surface and near-surface monazite occurrences that remain open at depth and along strike. The company recently shipped bulk sample from the Alces Lake discovery to CanmetMINING to support a test programme which will optimize and enhance the development of an Alces Lake Project flowsheet and to confirm other material testwork that has been previously conducted by other parties on the Alces Lake monazite.
Federal research and development (R&D) assistance is being provided through a collaboration agreement with CanmetMINING, under their Critical Minerals Research, Development and Demonstration programme. This programme targets research and development for upstream critical minerals processing and aims to stimulate the development of battery and permanent magnet value chains in Canada.
The test work is anticipated to include grinding, flotation, magnetic separation, ore sorting, and dense medium separation. CanmetMINING scientists will work closely with the company and its consultants for mineral processing. The objective is to design and execute a comprehensive and optimal testing approach that will produce a high-grade rare earth mineral concentrate from the Alces Lake mineralized material.
CanmetMINING, a science and technology branch of the Lands and Metals sector of Natural Resources Canada, is a world-class leader in the development and deployment of green mining innovation technologies. Much of its research is undertaken in partnership with industry, provincial governments, other federal departments, universities, and international agencies. CanmetMINING’s C$47.7M Critical Minerals R&D programme was funded through the Federal Budget 2021 to develop domestic critical raw materials value chains, and position Canada as a global supplier of choice for critical mineral products.
R&D is focused on three key priority research areas: battery minerals, the Mining Value from Waste programme (MVfW), and rare earth elements and other critical minerals. This collaboration with Appia under the REE and other critical minerals area seeks to advance the production of permanent magnet raw materials in Canada.