25 Things You May Not Know About Saskatchewan

25 Things You May Not Know About Saskatchewan
Vol. 12 Issue 5

By Lorne McClinton

1 During the middle Devonian Period, between 375 and 400 million years ago, much of Saskatchewan was covered by the shallow Elk Point Sea. Over time the sea became almost completely cut off from the open ocean. The isolated sea evaporated under the hot dry climate and left behind the 215-metre-deep layer of salts that are known today as the Elk Point Group.  It holds enough salt to form a layer five miles wide by one mile deep stretching from New York City to San Francisco. The formation contains one third of the world´s potash reserves (mostly potassium chloride).

2  Saskatoon is the home of Innovation Place, Canada´s largest and fastest-growing agricultural biotechnology cluster with about 30% of this sector´s national activity. About 35 companies in Saskatoon are engaged in agricultural biotechnology research and development, one of the largest concentrations of this kind in the world.

The same fault line that was the site of the province´s original uranium mines also holds significant deposits of rare earth elements (REEs). Great West Minerals Group is currently in the process of developing a mine at Hoidas Lake, 30 miles north of Uranium City. When operational it will be one of the very few REE mines in production outside of China.

Anyone looking at a periodic table of elements will notice two rows sitting off by themselves at the bottom. REEs comprise the top row in this group. According to Great West executive chairman Gary Billingsley, the deposit is particularly rich in neodymium (Nd), a mineral used in the permanent magnets that are the base for the electric motors used in hybrid vehicles. Others like cerium (Ce) and lanthanum (La) are used in rechargeable batteries. Global demand is expected to double by 2012. 

"Rare earth elements aren´t really all that rare," Billingsley says. "What is rare is finding enough quantities for mining to be economically viable. We currently have 1.2 million tonnes in what is called the measured and indicated category, about a 10-year supply. 

"Since REEs are often found with minor amounts of radioactive material it is a real plus to have this find located in Saskatchewan," Billingsley adds. "A lot of other mining jurisdictions don´t want to touch anything radioactive. Here people know how to handle it so its not much of an issue."

Canada is by far the largest export producer of lentils in the world and Saskatchewan grows 80% of Canada´s lentils.  Canada exported almost five times more lentils than Turkey, the next largest exporter in 2006-07. World lentil production was 4.17 megatonnes in 2005-06. Canadian production reached a record of 1.28 megatonnes that year.

5 Saskatchewan has over 250,000 kilometers of roads, more road surface than any other Canadian province. Its roads date back to when the province was originally surveyed for settlement in the late 1800s. Today there are 26,000 kilometers of highways and divided highways, 9,000 kilometers of paved municipal road, 5,000 kilometers of granular paved municipal roads, 7,000 kilometers of thin membrane surfaces, 5,600 kilometers of gravel highways and more than 197,000 kilometers of dirt roads.

Southeastern Saskatchewan is home to the Canadian portion of the Bakken oil field. According to current estimates, the Bakken play contains at least three billion barrels and is the most significant oil find in Canada since Alberta´s Pembina Cardium field was discovered in 1957. The portion of the Bakken field located in North Dakota was identified as early as 1953, but development of the Canadian portion would have to wait for the refinement of horizontal drilling techniques over the past few years.

The next time you do laundry there are good odds you are contributing to the Saskatchewan economy. Laundry detergents contain sodium sulphate and there are five sodium sulphate plants in the province. Saskatchewan´s sodium sulphate is found in alkaline lakes in the southern part of the province. Water is removed and salt deposits, containing the mineral, are left behind. It is used in detergent (dishwashing and laundry powder), carpet deodorizers, corn starch, the pulp and paper industry and glass industry. The province ranks fifth in the world in the production of sodium sulphate. 

Saskcan Pulse Trading in Regina is the largest lentil and pea splitting company in the Americas with over 200,000 megatonnes of capacity, over 60 years of global marketing experience and facilities in the U.S. and Australia.

Not only does Saskatchewan boast Canada´s only operating carbon capture and storage project at the Weyburn oilfield; the province is also a world leader in developing CCS technology at the Petroleum Technology Research Centre and the International Test Centre for Carbon Dioxide Capture in Regina. 

Thanks in part to federal funds allocated in last February´s budget, SaskPower, the provincially owned electrical utility, is launching a $1.4-billion retrofit to its Boundary Dam generating station near Estevan to capture carbon dioxide. When complete it will inject 34.5 million tonnes of captured CO2 into two nearby oilfields for enhanced oil recovery. Using methods pioneered by EnCana Corporation at nearby Weyburn, this project is expected to stimulate approximately 267 million barrels of additional oil production over time. 

Regina-based Viterra Inc., the result of last year´s acquisition of Agricore United by Saskatchewan Wheat Pool Inc., has Canada´s largest grain handling network and extensive operations and distribution capabilities across Canada and in the United States and Japan. It´s also involved in seed development, agri-product sales, food processing, equipment sales, livestock and financial products. 

The Saskatchewan Research Council has built a demonstration house called the Factor 9 house in Regina. Compared to a house built in the 1970s, it uses 90% less energy ? that is, energy use is reduced by a factor of nine ? and 50% less water than the average Saskatchewan home. It was built with special insulation, air and water heat exchangers, solar panels and water capture devices.

12 The Saskatoon-based University of Saskatchewan is home to Canada´s first and only synchrotron. The Canadian Light Source, as it´s called, is an extremely bright source of light that can probe the structure of matter to help those studying physical, chemical, geological, environmental and biological processes. Researchers are lining up to use it for various applications once it is fully operational in 2011.

Northern Saskatchewan has the richest uranium deposits in the world. The province is the world´s largest producer of uranium and accounts for about a quarter of global uranium production. With the opening of Cameco´s Cigar Lake mine this year, plus a series of planned expansions and new mines, uranium production in the province is expected to double in the near future.

Poundmaker Agventures Ltd. is operating the only integrated feedlot and ethanol plant in Canada. The 12.5-million-litre ethanol plant, at the 30,000-head feedlot operation near Lannigan, Sask., has been in operation since 1990. Combining a livestock operation with an ethanol plant this way gives the ethanol plant a built-in market for its distiller´s grains, eliminating the need to install expensive drying equipment and incur the ongoing fuel costs it would take to run it. 

15 The world´s largest kimberlite field (diamond-bearing formation) is in the area around Fort à la Corne, just east of Prince Albert in the centre of the province. While this region contains over 1.2 billion tonnes of diamondiferous kimberlite, the entire province is considered to be prospective ground for diamond exploration. Unlike all other significant prospective diamond areas in Canada, the diamond exploration areas in Saskatchewan are well serviced with infrastructure including road and power, providing a significant cost advantage. 

16 Potash is the rarest of the four main nutrients that plants need to grow. It gets its name from the pre-industrial process used to obtain it, by leaching vegetable ashes and evaporating the solution in iron pots. With farmers around the world increasing production to meet new demand for food and feed, Saskatchewan´s naturally occurring potash is a hot commodity. 

There are no homes for sale in potash central, Esterhazy, Sask. According to Mayor Herb Hozjan, you can expect a long wait if you are planning on building one too. The 2,600-person town, just north of the Trans-Canada Highway near the Manitoba border, is home to Mosaic Company´s massive K1 and K2 potash mines. The community had been stagnating economically for 25 years but today it´s bursting at the seams. Workers are flooding in to ride the wave of potash mine expansion in the area by Mosaic and the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan.  

"Esterhazy´s future looks brighter than it has for 30 or 40 years," Hosjan says. "I´m not old enough to remember when the mines first came in here during the late ´50s, early ´60s, but my dad tells me this is what happened then. Back then the boom was just confined to our immediate area. Today the whole province seems to be taking off."

17 Ipsco Inc., then called Prairie Pipe Ltd., built its first pipe-making facilities in Regina in 1956. Today, the company operates facilities that have the capacity to make 4.3 million tons of steel annually across Canada and the United States. Utilizing electric arc furnaces, the steelworks melt steel scrap and, with the addition of appropriate alloys, create numerous grades and strengths of hot rolled discrete plate and coil. In July 2007, Ipsco became a wholly owned subsidiary of SSAB, a leading Swedish steel company. SSAB has subsequently sold Ipsco´s tubular business to Russian steelmaker Evraz.

18 Put optimism into any farm and farmers are apt to spend money upgrading equipment. Saskatchewan is a hotbed for agricultural equipment innovation. There were 89 farm equipment manufacturers in Saskatchewan in 2004. Bourgault Industries in the tiny village of St. Brieux is a world leader in developing and manufacturing air drills and other zero-till seeding equipment. Global agricultural manufacturing giants Case New Holland and John Deere have respectively bought out two other innovative Saskatchewan air drill companies

19 Saskatchewan´s conventional oil in place is currently estimated at 39.3 billion barrels with more than 30 billion barrels of that beyond reach, for now. There are 20,000 active wells and an estimated 25 billion barrels of heavy or oilsands oil. "Approximately $2.8 billion was invested in exploring and developing oil and gas in Saskatchewan last year, however it is estimated that only about 15% of our discovered oil in place will be produced," notes Minister of Energy and Resources Bill Boyd. 

"If recovery rates  were to increase by five percentage points, our remaining reserves would more than double from current levels."

Saskatchewan has 37 million acres of cropland, 41.7% of all cropland in Canada. All those acres mean that Saskatchewan is the centre of Canadian grain and oilseed production. Strong demand for grains and oilseeds, for everything from instant noodles in China to biofuels in the United States, has suddenly made this sector a white-hot segment of Canada´s economy. "Grain prices have doubled and in some cases tripled in the past two years," says Larry Weber, a market analyst with Weber Commodities in Saskatoon. "It´s so fun to watch! Every farmer that comes into my office now is just grinning from ear to ear."

Alberta may produce more oil but Saskatchewan is Canada´s largest primary energy producer on a per-capita basis. It has 3% of the population but produces 33% of the country´s primary energy. Saskatchewan is one of the few jurisdictions in the world that produces energy from very diverse primary energy sources. Saskatchewan´s energy sources include coal, oil, natural gas, hydro-electric, uranium, wind and biofuels.

Like hot dogs? Saskatchewan accounts for nearly 90% of Canadian mustard production and nearly half the world´s supply of mustard seed. The United States, Japan and Belgium are the major export markets for mustard seeds. 

23 There are two heavy oil upgraders in Saskatchewan. One is located in Lloydminster and is owned and operated by Husky Energy Inc. The Government of Saskatchewan and Federated Co-operatives jointly owned the second one, located in Regina, until the fall of 2007 when Federated Co-operatives bought the government´s share. The former NDP government announced it planned to use the proceeds of the sale for a Green Futures Fund dedicated to climate-change initiatives.

Listen up, waterfront-deprived Albertans. Minnesota bills itself as the "land of 10,000 lakes." As the serious fishermen among you will know, Saskatchewan contains an astonishing 100,000 lakes. The aptly named Deep Bay on Reindeer Lake is the deepest body of water in the province. The 220-metre-deep, near circular bay was formed more than 100 million years ago by a giant meteorite.

According to Saskatchewan Tourism, the northern half of the province is home to one of the largest concentrations of fly-in fishing camps in the world. In 2007, the world´s largest rainbow trout was pulled from Lake Diefenbaker.

More than half of Saskatchewan is forested, about evenly split between hardwood, softwood and mixed forests. According to a 2006 provincial task force report, 300 forest companies operate in the province. Their assets include two pulp and paper mills, two oriented strand board plants, a plywood mill and five large sawmills, in addition to a number of remanufacturing operations. Canada´s first waferboard plant and the world´s first closed-loop, liquid effluent-free hardwood pulp mill were built here. But as in the rest of Canada, the industry is in a slump, which is bad news for the province´s 50 forest-dependent communities. 
Shirley MacFarlane
Shirley MacFarlane
461 Broad Street N. Regina SK S4R 2X8