Kelly Sloan, The Business Times
Natural Soda, a sodium bicarbonate producer based in Rifle, has announced plans to expand its Piceance Basin processing facility and double production.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management sent out a news release on Dec. 8 announcing the start of a 14-day comment period as the agency prepares an environmental assessment of the proposed expansion.
Natural Soda is owned by Enirgi Group Corp., a private Canadian company. Natural Soda produces sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda, and processes it in a plant located about 37 miles southwest of Meeker. The company is the second largest North American producer of sodium bicarbonate, according to its Web site.
Natural Soda completed an expansion of its existing plant in 2013, allowing for an output of 250,000 tons a year. The proposed expansion would double that to 500,000 tons a year.
The company recovers the product through a process called solution mining, which involves injecting hot water into nahcolite beds more than 1,900 feet below the surface, dissolving the nahcolite. The sodium bicarbonate is then pumped up with the water. The Piceance Basin in Northwest Colorado holds North America’s only significant deposit of nahcolite. The sodium bicarbonate reserves within the company’s existing leases could support more than 20 years of production.
The proposed expansion would add 30 full-time jobs to the plant payroll over the next four years, resulting in total employment of 100 — including 85 workers at the plant and 15 off-site — by 2018. Most of these workers would live in Meeker or the surrounding area. The expansion is also expected to create jobs for 10 to 15 full-time transportation contractors to move the product from the plant to warehouses and rail loadouts in Rifle.
Up to 180 employees could be required for the construction phase, expected to begin in the spring of 2016 and last 10 months.
Because the plant and production wells are located on federally managed land, an environmental assessment is required. The BLM will accept public comments on the proposed expansion until Dec. 21. Comments may be mailed to the White River Field Office, 220 E. Market Street, Meeker, CO 81641, or submitted by e-mail to email@example.com.