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A new phosphate project

A large truck hauls phosphate ore from an Agrium open pit mine on the Caribou/Targhee National Forest. (photo/Mark Mendiola


mendiola MARK


An earlier version of this column appeared in Green Markets

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has approved the transfer of operating rights for the Dry Ridge Phosphate Project in southeastern Idaho from Solvoy USA Inc. to Fertoz USA LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fertoz Ltd., an Australian company with phosphate operations in Australia and Canada.

Fertoz joins Canadian companies Agrium, based at Calgary, Alberta, and Stonegate Agricom, based at Toronto, Ontario, as foreign companies hoping to realize hefty profits by developing phosphate mines in southeastern Idaho, but at great up-front capital investments.

Agrium has operated Conda processing plant for decades as Nu-West Industries near Soda Springs and runs the North Rasmussen Ridge Mine. Stonegate Agricom is developing the Paris Hills underground phosphate mine near Bloomington and Paris.

In December, Fertoz acquired an option to explore and acquire up to 100 percent of the Dry Ridge lease on the phosphate-rich Caribou/Targhee National Forest, expanding into the United States as it embarks on an ambitious expansion.

It has engaged World Industrial Minerals as a consultant to provide additional geological services to develop an exploration program in alignment with BLM requirements. Cascade Earth Sciences also has been contracted to start environmental permitting as required by the BLM. CES has teamed with Sound Ecological Endeavours and Sundance Consulting to expedite the biological and archaeological processes, respectively.

The approval process is expected to take 12 to 15 months. Fertoz Managing Director Les Szonyi said the BLM’s approval of transferring Dry Ridge operating rights will allow Fertoz to accelerate the permit and exploration approval process and begin drilling at the end of 2015 in Idaho.

Exploration in the United States requires significant third party input and reports before drilling can be approved, he noted, adding he expects Fertoz will submit in the next few months an exploration application, which outlines the proposed exploration plan. An environmental assessment of the project’s impact also must be submitted.

“This will require approval from both the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service. Our process is on track,” Szonyi told me.

Jeff Cundick, BLM’s minerals branch chief at its Pocatello field office, said the BLM’s state office in Boise approved assigning the Dry Ridge operating rights from Rhodia to Fertoz on Jan. 30, but Rhodia will maintain or keep the existing phosphate lease. The Solvay group acquired Rhodia, the chemicals division of Rhone-Poulenc, and its assets, including the 57-year-old Dry Ridge lease, in September 2011.

Fertoz officials indicated to the BLM that they most likely will apply for a Dry Ridge exploration and drilling permit in the spring, Cundick said, noting the BLM office in Boise is in charge of leasing and issuing permits while the Pocatello BLM office makes sure all federal regulations and requirements are met, including the Clean Water Act and the National Forest Management Act.

“I imagine the process will take several months,” Cundick told me. The BLM will do an environmental assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and work closely with the U.S. Forest Service, especially its biologists and cultural resource specialists. Safeguards will be formulated and Fertoz’ reclamation plan assessed, Cundick said.

Meanwhile, Fertoz will continue to focus on bulk samples from Wapiti East and exploring operations at its other phosphate operations in British Columbia — Marten, Barnes Lake and Crows Nest, known as the Fernie Group.

The British Columbia Ministry of Energy and Mines has approved a permit to allow Fertoz to extract a surface bulk sample from Wapiti East of up to 7,500 metric tons of phosphate rock during the Canadian winter. Fertoz recently announced it has secured the Marten Project, an underground exploration phosphate mine.

Southeastern Idaho is within an area designated by the U.S. Geological Survey as a “Known Phosphate Leasing Area” or KPLA, which contains four operating phosphate mines and a number of smaller advanced exploration/development projects, some of which are directly along the same sedimentary horizon as Dry Ridge.

Fertoz’ Dry Ridge property covers 518 acres west of the J.R. Simplot Co.’s Smoky Canyon phosphate mine near the Idaho/Wyoming border. It lies south of Agrium Inc.’s Husky Unit 1 and North Dry Ridge leases under exploration and directly north of Agrium’s Husky Unit 2.

Agrium, Simplot and Monsanto all have processing plants in the region and are responsible for processing up to 14 percent of U.S. phosphate ore. They have operating mines within 20 to 90 miles from their processing plants where rock is transported by truck and slurry pipeline. The Soda Springs processing plants of Agrium and Monsanto are within 22 miles of the Dry Ridge property.

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