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This article was published 10/4/2019 (1171 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Suddenly, everyone’s interested in Manitoba sand.
The mystery company that two years ago staked a massive area spanning 1,200 square kilometres around Steinbach and extending up to Anola has revealed itself and its intentions.
The numbered company out of Alberta that filed 452 claims in the area is privately owned HD Minerals out of Calgary, and it’s exploring a sand deposit.
It’s the second company to come forward this year with intentions to mine sand in the province. Earlier this year, Canadian Premium Sand unveiled plans to build a $110-million sand-extraction and cleaning plant near Hollow Water First Nation, on the east side of Lake Winnipeg. Its project to supply sand for fracking oil is not yet approved and requires extensive road improvements to haul sand out of the quarry.
The HD Mineral play is nowhere near as developed, but at least it wouldn’t have a problem with transportation. The company would ship sand to market via railway with both CN Rail and CP Rail lines running through its properties, a company representative said.
The big reveal this week was not to announce a major find to the marketplace, but is rather a commitment to let staked communities know what the company is up to, said Trevor Martens of Evolve Surface Strategies, a land-acquisition company working for HD Minerals.
Open houses were held in La Broquerie on Tuesday and Anola on Wednesday. A third meeting is slated for today in Richer at the Young at Heart Hall from 4 to 8 p.m.
HD Minerals’ land claims encompass at least six rural municipalities: Ste. Anne, Hanover, La Broquerie, Springfield, Reynolds and Tache.
The HD Minerals play is unusual in that the company didn’t know what it was drilling for, Martens said. It liked the unexplored geology and the infrastructure, and so cast a wide net. That infrastructure includes the proximity to railways, Winnipeg and a large workforce.
"Ultimately, we tested for everything," Martens said. "We tested for gold, and diamonds, you name it." They also tested for lithium, which many people in the mining sector suspected was its target.
What they found wasn’t as sexy, but still of value: a high-quality sand that might be used in oil and gas recovery (fracking) but also in making glass, ceramics, solar panels, silica metals and other products, Martens said.
"We haven’t picked a market yet because we don’t know yet what we’re going to get," Martens said.
The other unusual aspect of the mineral play is that the sand isn’t near surface, as is the case in sand and gravel quarries. The sand HD Minerals is finding is 200 feet below ground level (the Hollow Water sand is two feet below the surface) and cannot be mined by open quarry, only by underground mine.
Martens wasn’t aware of any underground sand mines anywhere in the world. "This has never been done before, and we’re working with environmental people and hydrogeologists and drilling engineers to see if we can even produce it," he said.
The sand is also in an aquifer used by many people in the area for private wells.
"The biggest thing we’re stressing right now is not the economics of it, but the environmental and water aspect," he said. "We want to be as environmentally responsible as we can be and we’re working with specialists from the area and Winnipeg before we make any applications for this."
The company has drilled 28 bore holes to date and found enough sand deposit to continue exploration. It has so far paid out $45,000 to landowners in the area for surface-access rights.
"We’re very early still. We’re still testing," Martens said.
Since the land was first staked, HD Minerals has become a subsidiary of CanWhite Sands Corp. HD Minerals president Feisal Somji was not available to explain what attracted the company about the area’s geology, or the geology behind the location of the sand.