Black Butte Copper Project is a 21st century mining operation—the first of its kind in the Treasure State's history.
Sandfire is putting world class methods and technologies to work in Montana. We’re committed to preserving our precious land and waters while spurring economic rural development for the people of Montana. We can do both, because we’re doing it right…from the beginning.
Black Butte Copper began with Montana landowners and local leadership.
Sandfire Vice President, Jerry Zieg, was born and raised in White Sulphur Springs and grew up on the Smith River. In 1985, after earning his masters in geology from the University of Montana, Jerry and his exploration team discovered the Johnny Lee deposit. This remarkable site would later become the Black Butte Copper Project. Many people don’t realize that Sandfire Resources America was formed when the ranchers who own this land reached out to Jerry. After they were approached by more than 15 companies hoping to lease the site, they realized that local leadership was key to creating a world class project that would be developed by the community and for the community. From there, Jerry assembled his “dream team” of staff and partners—combining Montana experience with global industry expertise.
The big picture – Understanding the Black Butte Copper Project
Located north of White Sulphur Springs, the project’s property includes the Johnny Lee Deposit, which contains a copper concentration 10 times higher than many existing mines. The Black Butte Copper Project will be an underground mine. This means that traditional land uses such as agriculture, cattle grazing and outdoor recreation will continue. Learn more.
Sandfire estimates that this project will bring at least 240 jobs to the area at an average salary of approximately $71,000 per year. Currently, Sandfire has 23 full-time employees and more than 20 contractors and businesses working on the project. Local hires now and during mine operation are critical in helping ensure a stable work force and supporting our local economy.
The Montana Business Assistance Connection (MBAC) has projected that countywide taxable value could quadruple, increasing upwards of $12 million dollars, along with increase in annual retail sales of $3.4 million during the life of the mine. Learn More.
About the Resource and Opportunity
A remarkable Deposit
Black Butte Copper is unique because of the exceptionally high concentration of copper in the mineral deposit—nearly one billion pounds of copper in just under 12 million tonnes of mineralization, making this the second highest grade copper deposit in the world, currently under development. Significant copper production will require only a small underground operation.
A unique Location
The copper deposit is lies in highly carbonate rock which acts as a natural buffer to potentially acid generating ore. This, combined with modern mining methods, allows us to protect the environment as we mine and completely reclaim the site to traditional agricultural uses at end of mine life.
The project presents tremendous opportunity to White Sulphur Springs and surrounding communities for rural economic development.
What makes this project different
We know our history. We know how to do this project right...from the beginning.
Our solution is not the easiest or the cheapest. It’s the safest.
- Protecting water is our top priority. We’re going above and beyond to ensure we meet the legal standards to protect water quantity and quality.
- We’ve completed exhaustive metallurgic testing to fully understand the deposit in order to design the safest, most efficient mine in Montana’s history.
- 78 monitoring stations have been installed in the areas surrounding the mining site and baseline information has been gathered for 5 years. On average, this more than 2 years longer than most traditional mining sites.
- We will manage all tailings (mine waste) in a manner that prevents oxidation or contamination of soils and water.
We’re operating with full transparency and an open door.
- Monitoring and direct access to the groundwater stations’ data will be available to the public.
- We’ve created an online Information Center to provide the public with details, facts, research and project updates.
- Come visit! Schedule a tour today.
Geologic differences make this project viable.
- The extensive carbonate rich rock which contains the deposits helps environmental management by neutralizing any acid caused by weathering of the sulfide deposits – this is happening naturally on site today.
- Our mineralized copper zone contains very high concentrations of copper resulting in a small amount of mining producing large amounts of copper.
- Because of the high copper concentration, all mining occurs underground – this is also our contractual agreement with the landowners. No mining will occur from an “open pit”, dramatically reducing the project’s environmental footprint.
We are committed to doing this job right.
- From our initial exploration activities, into operations, and all the way through reclamation – Our team and our project respects the public and protects the environment.
- We’re reclaiming as we go. Underground stopes will be filled during mining with cemented paste backfill.
- There will not be any mining from an “open pit” – which dramatically reduces our environmental footprint.
- A bond secured by Sandfire before construction will ensure that sufficient funds are available to properly reclaim all disturbances at the site at the end of mine life.
- Nearly all land will return to agricultural production after reclamation.
The Black Butte Copper Project depends on both local and global expertise.
By leveraging Montana talent and resources alongside professionals and companies from around the world, the Black Butte Copper Project will feature some of the industry’s most innovative and environmentally conscientious mining practices in use today.
Geology & Geochemistry
A strong understanding of the land, including the rock types and their chemistry, the surface landscape and conditions underground, has helped us design a safe, underground mining project that protects the environment.LEARN MORE
We are committed to environmental protection. From collecting five years of baseline data, to instituting a culture of going above and beyond, we’ve designed a mine that will have a small footprint, will be reclaimed as we go, and will return the land to grazing cattle when mine operations end.LEARN MORE
Water Quality & Quantity
Protecting the Smith River Valley watershed is crucial. Our team of professionals and independent environmental consultants are experienced in gathering accurate data about both water quality and quantity. They have the expertise to analyze information correctly to ensure we protect all water resources and adhere to all legal standards and requirements.LEARN MORE
Local Staff & Leadership
The leaders of the Black Butte Copper Project value honesty and integrity above all in moving this project forward.LEARN MORE
We are proud to be part of the community of White Sulphur Springs and enjoy working with local businesses to ensure our project is done right from the beginning.LEARN MORE
Board of Directors
Our world-class investors lead with integrity and strongly value community input and Montana traditions.LEARN MORE
Our 21st century mine design optimizes environmental protection.LEARN MORE
Black Butte Copper Project Timeline
The Black Butte Copper project received final approval of the Mine Operating Permit for its Johnny Lee Deposit on August 13, 2020, and Phase I construction commenced August 17, 2020.
Hard rock mining operating permit approved.
Phase II construction will be subject to legal challenge resolution (slowed by COVID and currently in front of the Montana Supreme Court).
Hard rock mining operating permit approved.
Following legal challenge resolution will be project financing, Board approvals, and meeting final construction bond requirements. Once initiated, Phase II construction will take approximately two years.
Frequently Asked Questions
How far is the Smith River from the Project?
The Smith River is 19 stream miles from the confluence of Sheep Creek and the Smith River. To protect all water resources, the cemented tailings facility will be located one mile off Sheep Creek, and all facilities including the tunnel opening will be located out of the valley, in a saddle of Sawmill Hill. Sandfire purposely chose this distant location to ensure a superior job of environmental management for the mine site and for protection of all local waterways.
What method of mining will be used underground?
The mining method contemplated in the PEA is called both “cut and fill” or “drift and fill”, which means that part of the deposit will be mined out (cut) and paste backfill non-mineralized rock will be placed in that opening (fill). This greatly reduces the amount of tailings that are stored at surface level as approximately half of the tailings will be placed back underground as paste backfill. Sandfire is evaluating various scenarios to minimize the amount of tailings to be stored at surface.
How will water be protected?
We take protecting all the water resources seriously. Sandfire’s professionals chose the tunnel entry location specifically because it is almost 200 feet above the water level. In order to keep water from leaving the mine and mixing with creek water, all planned openings or entry points to the mine (including air ventilation and escape routes) are located far above the water table. Sandfire’s professionals chose the tunnel entry location specifically because it is almost 200 feet above the water level.