Sedimentary phosphate rock in Alberta and southeastern British Columbia: resource potential, the industry, technology and research needs

CIM Bulletin, Vol. 81, No. 913, 1988

D.E. MACDONALD Alberta Geological Survey Alberta Research Council

Approximately 2.0 million tonnes of phosphate rock is imported from the U.S. to Alberta annually and is used in the production of agricultural fertilizers. No phosphate rock is presently mined in Canada, although sources of igneous phosphate have been mined in the past. Sedimentary phosphate rock is found in nine geological units within the Cordilleran Foothills and Front Ranges region of Alberta. The Devonian-Mississippian Exshaw Formation, Permo-Pennsylvanian Rocky Mountain Supergroup, and the Jurassic Fernie Formation have the best potential for future development. Most of the phosphate rock in Alberta is of low grade and lies within restricted land use areas. The best over-all resource potential lies in the Fernie basin area of southeastern British Columbia, in the Fernie Formation. The possibility of deep phosphate rock deposits in the plains region should be examined. Phosphate rock is mined in Idaho, Utah, Montana and Florida, and is shipped to Canadian fertilizer plants for processing. Raw phosphate rock is acidified, usually with sulphuric acid, by a wet process. Varying amounts of ammonia are added, and the fertilizer is pelletized. Future research, in western Canada, is needed in the beneficiating of low-grade ores and in the area of in situ mining. At the present time, phosphate rock sells for around US$50/tonne, and Alberta fertilizer companies probably pay in the range of C$70-$85/tonne for U.S. phosphate rock delivered to the plant. Environmental concerns about phosphate rock processing are centred around gypsum tailing ponds, and radioactive wastes. U.S. supplies of phosphate rock are secure until the year 2000; however, by this time, the richer deposits in the U.S. may be exhausted. Alternate deposits, such as the ones in Alberta and British Columbia, might then be considered. Phosphate byproducts, such as uranium, vanadium, fluorine and rare earth elements, may help in making the processing of low-grade Canadian phosphates economically feasible.
Keywords: Phosphate rock, Alberta, Geology, Fertilizer industry.