Not every company can truly say its services are one of a kind. But as of the end of 2013, Associated Mining Construction Inc. (AMC) will be the only shaft-sinking contractor to safely sink a new potash shaft in Saskatchewan since the late 1970s.
“There is a need for new shafts in the province because the work in the mines is taking place far from their original [mine entrances],” President Roy Durr says. “Sinking shafts in Saskatchewan is different from anywhere in the world, and we have the technology and experience the potash producers need.”
Although the company was formed in 2008, AMC is tied to the long legacy of its joint venture parent companies, J.S. Redpath Ltd. and Thyssen Mining. It is a highly specialized company, providing the potash industry with shaft-sinking, equipping, commissioning, drilling, repair and maintenance services that AMC says are based on innovation, human resources and technical knowledge.
The company’s formation came about in response to the need for shaft-sinking services in Saskatchewan. AMC is headquartered in the provincial capital of Regina, only a few hundred kilometers from a sizeable portion of the world’s potash. The company can take advantage of Thyssen Mining’s management and project support systems, as well as its internal values of safety, honesty, transparency and environmental consciousness to ensure that all projects are incident-free, on time and on budget.
Technology is perhaps AMC’s greatest competitive advantage. Thanks to the support of Thyssen Mining and J.S. Redpath and its sister company Deilmann-Haniel Shaft Sinking (DHSS), the company has first-hand access to an innovative, specialized process for sinking through water-bearing ground. The technique uses ground-freezing technology before shaft sinking. The company has also developed composite lining technology that supports elevated water pressure and is designed to be completely watertight.
These services are critical to potash producers in Saskatchewan because of the region’s geotechnical and hydrological ground conditions. The ground must be frozen from the surface all the way down to beneath the Blairmore formation to improve wall stability.
The process is quite complex, involving analysis of ground conditions, the use of freeze pipes and a brine solution chilled using ammonia chillers. AMC sinks shafts to about 1,100 meters below the surface, and uses liner systems to control water inflows. It takes about a year and is completely reversible, leaving no damage.
“We have grown our engineering and operations teams and expanded our mobile equipment,” Durr says.
Because of the nature of AMC’s work, the company counts safety among its core values. All AMC employees receive intensive safety training and are responsible and accountable for adhering to all safety procedures. The company actively encourages employees to come forward with ideas on how to make safety improvements, and management’s responsibilities include ensuring all requisite safety equipment is onsite and that all projects have safety integrated into their design and implementation.
The company has several projects underway – projects that are establishing AMC as the go-to service provider in the province. One of them is known as PCS Scissors Creek. It is a six-meter-diameter, composite-lined shaft that is being sunk to a depth of 1,123 meters. It includes a 600-meter-deep section of frozen ground. The company parted with conventional methods to save time and money for the client, PotashCorp.
Rather than using temporary headframes during sinking and then constructing a permanent headframe when sinking is complete, the company developed a method of bridging the freeze circle with the headframe, supporting it on piles and concrete reinforced beams. This eliminated the need for temporary headframe construction and cut costs and scheduling concerns for the client.
Other projects include Project Vault, Mosaic K3 and PCS Cory. Project Vault, or the Vanscoy Ultimate Expansion, is focused on maximizing the capacity of the Vanscoy, Saskatchewan, potash mine. AMC is serving as a subcontractor on the project, working on the hoisting system installation and underground modification and upgrade work.
On the Mosaic K3 project, AMC was awarded a contract in 2010 for the drilling of the freeze holes and subsequently in 2011 the shaft sinking and equipping of both production and service shafts. With PCS Cory, the company has been working on the upgrade of the underground facility of the Cory expansion since 2009.
Further down the road, the company plans to establish a blueprint that will allow it to expand its geographic footprint as well as the kinds of projects it can take on.