About a mile-and-a-half underground in north-central Michigan, an almost-forgotten reserve of the potassium-rich mineral salt potash could be worth $65 billion to the Michigan economy.
A widely used agricultural fertilizer, Michigan’s potash may be some of the purest found anywhere in the world. It’s spurring a Colorado engineer and geologist’s plan for a more than $700-million mining and processing facility in Osceola County.
“This is a transformative, generational opportunity for Osceola County,” said Michigan Potash CEO Theodore Pagano. “One of the world’s tightest-controlled commodities sits in Evart Township, and it’s the highest-graded ore by a factor of two. And it sits in a location better than anybody else’s in the world.”
The climate is opportune for Pagano’s effort. President Donald Trump in December issued a presidential order to ensure secure and reliable U.S. supplies of 35 minerals, including potash, considered critical to economic and national security.
But retrieving Michigan’s potash will take a huge amount of groundwater. The Department of Environmental Quality has already approved Michigan Potash’s request to extract 725 million gallons of groundwater annually, almost 2 million gallons per day — more than five times the controversial groundwater withdrawal by Nestlé North America’s Ice Mountain bottled water operation only a few miles away.
“This is in the middle of a really sensitive, elaborate wetland area — lots of lakes, streams and ponds, pristine wetlands — and the plant is in the worst possible location in it,” said Peggy Case, spokesperson for the nonprofit Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation.