August 17, 2010 by staff 

Potash, North Dakota has approved its first exploratory drilling permit in more than three decades of potash, a form of salt used as fertilizer.

The Department of Mineral Resources issued the permit on Friday to LLC based in Denver Salts Dakota for a test well near lignite in Burke County. The company is using the grant money the state to study whether the mines can be used to store compressed air for wind farms to generate electricity once the potassium is removed.

Sales of Dakota is a subsidiary of London-Sirius Exploration PLC, which has mining interests in China, Australia and Macedonia. The company said it has hired more than 6,000 hectares in northwestern North Dakota for salt and potash mining.

Toby Hall, a spokesman for Sirius Exploration in London, said the 8900 meters deep test well will be drilled later this year.

Only four test wells have been drilled for North Dakota potassium, the last in 1976, said Ed Murphy, the state geologist.

In addition to store compressed air, Dakota Sales said mining the caverns can also store carbon dioxide plant in North Dakota coal-fired power or natural gas from oil fields in the state.

North Dakota Industrial Commission gave the company a grant of 225,000 and in April to study the ideas. Governor John Hoeven, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring up the commission.

Murphy said that North Dakota probably has about 50 million tons of potash. North Dakota beds of potash, created by the oceans that dried up 400 million years ago, cover about 11,000 square kilometers in the northwest corner of the state, he said.

About 90 percent of the potash used for domestic agricultural production comes from mines in western Canada, the U.S. Geological Survey, said.

Some of the largest mines in Canada are less than 150 miles north of North Dakota, said Murphy. Canadians and North Dakota deposits are contiguous, although potash in Canada is less depth and is easier to retrieve.

Canadian potash beds, which provide the bulk of global demand is about 5,000 feet below the surface. North Dakota tank potassium varies from 5,600 meters to about 12,000 feet underground, said Murphy. Three mining companies potash considers North Dakota in the 1960s and 1970s, but thought it was too deep.

The potash was recovered by traditional mining and solution mining, a process that involves the injection of liquid into the holes to dissolve and recall. Sales Dakota intends to do the latter.

Advanced drilling techniques learned from the oil industry could help get a good price of potash in deeper waters of North Dakota, said Murphy.

Hall said there is no timeline for potash mining in North Dakota.

“Clearly, the first priority is the exploration of potash … and the need to begin to test it with updated data,” he said.

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