Billion dollar mineral buried beneath Michigan

Cooper Lewis ‘26, Sports Editor

About four-hundred million years ago the large sum of land that would one day become the state of Michigan was completely submerged by seawater. As years passed, this water would evaporate and dry up—leaving behind nothing but salt loaded with potassium, which today is buried 8,000 feet under the earth.

To put that in perspective, the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, could be stacked four times at that depth. The Grand Canyon, one of the deepest and most well known canyons in the U.S., is only around 6,000 feet deep. The mineral is very important to the world’s economy, as it plays a vital role in fertilizer, which in turn is used for growing crops. This mineral is called Potash. If Michigan were to reach this deposit, it could put the state as the leading U.S. supplier for fertilizer. And just in recent years, Michigan has spent up to $50 million to try and reach this potash deposit.

Bill Harrison, director of the Michigan Geological Repository for Research and Education at Western Michigan University, stated that, “There’s a big enough deposit that could be a great value to the country.”

About 93 percent of all potash is imported to the U.S. from Canada, Russia, Belarus, and China. But, due to the recent events in Ukraine, a strain could be put on American farmers. As well as with the sanctions on Russia and Belarus earlier this year, potash is in very high demand, so prices will, and are currently, increasing drastically. From 2017 to 2020, potash has cost around $225 to $750 per ton. However, in September, a weekly report from the University of Illinois stated that prices had hit almost $1000 per ton. Once the mineral deposit located in Michigan is hit, those prices could drop about seven percent. 

So, how will this potash be mined exactly? After all, it is 8,000 feet underground. That is no easy task, yet a solution has already been planned. To extract the potash, miners will use a process called, ‘solution mining’. This is done by drilling a deep hole, roughly to where the mineral deposit is, and pumping water underground, where it will reach that deposit and dissolve it. In turn, this will also create underground caverns. A brine, now infested with the mineral, would then be pumped back up, and dried, producing potash, with the wastewater being injected back into the Earth. 

Harrison said, “It’s a complex process to get it out, but solution mining technology has been around for a long time. People have been mining salt underground and by solution mining wells for almost 100 years in the state of Michigan. We know how to do it, but it’s still pretty costly.”

If everything goes right, and the potash is successfully mined, Michigan’s economy would boost by the millions. Sure, there are good consequences being generated by this plan, but the downsides cannot be forgotten either. The economy will boost, but the environment will suffer.

Biology teacher Mr. Brian Elliot expressed his thoughts on the idea of mining the mineral. He said, “I would be in favor of it, as long as it doesn’t destroy the environment. And if they can do it safely, and don’t destroy habitats, then yeah, I’d be fine with them extracting it.”

The proposed mine could dry up wells all across the area, as well as the groundwater. Natural ecosystems in the area would be harmed as well if a brine leak occurs. 

There are both pros and cons to this proposed idea. But at the end of the day, if this mineral is successfully mined, both Michigan and the U.S.’s economy would boost greatly.

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