A Lode of Limestone at Birch Mountain

Birch Mountain (AMEX: BMD  ) has a very hot property up in the heart of Canadian oil sands country. Unlike Canadian Natural Resources (NYSE: CNQ  ) , its properties don't contain a bit of bitumen, as far as we know. Rather, the company sits on a pile of rocks. Pretty exciting, huh?

Well, more accurately, the company has a vast claim on limestone deposits, which is very exciting when you consider how vital the stuff is to the booming oil sands industry.

Up in Alberta, limestone comes in handy for several reasons. When crushed, it is used as aggregate, an ingredient of concrete and a base layer in road construction. Because limestone is largely composed of calcite, it's also used to derive calcium oxide -- better known as quick lime. This substance is key to reducing pollutants emitted by bitumen upgraders (the facilities that make oil sands refinable).

Though limestone is not particularly rare, it is scarce in this particular region of Alberta. Because the rock is so heavy, and thus expensive to transport, Birch Mountain has a great cost advantage in delivering the material to oil sands projects.

Birch Mountain just began producing limestone last year, hence the lack of historical revenue. But things are turning around fast, signaled by the company's first cash-flow positive quarter in Q1. A large purchase by an unidentified buyer followed in April, and then came this week's announcement of a three-year supply deal with Suncor (NYSE: SU  ) -- the oil sands operator, as far as I'm concerned.

The fact that Birch's selling prices have risen from an average of C$3 per tonne last year to C$8 per tonne in the first quarter of this year should give you some idea of the urgency felt by oil sands producers to secure limestone. Combine that with the fact that Birch's quarry is running 24/7, and that Birch estimates that it has enough to meet two-thirds of the market demand for construction and base aggregates through 2060, and you have what looks to be a pretty compelling investment opportunity.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't own shares in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is rock-solid.


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