The 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 also committed to preserving our precious land and water resources while spurring growth and opportunity for the people of Central Montana. We can do both, because we’re doing it right…from the beginning.

The History

The Black Butte Copper Project 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 capabilities with global industry expertise.

Learn more about our project partners and the opportunity.

Project Snapshot

How it came to be – The story of the Black Butte Copper Project.

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 $65,000 per year. Currently, Sandfire has 9 full time employees and many contractors and businesses working on the project, investing over $3.2 million in 2014. Local hires now and during mine operation are critical in helping ensure a stable work force and supporting our local economy.

View the project timeline | Send us your resume

The Montana Business Assistance Connection (MBAC) has projected that countywide taxable value could quadruple, increasing upwards of $12 million dollars and annual retail sales will increase by $3.4 million during the life of the mine. Learn More.

About the Resource and Opportunity

A remarkable Deposit

The Black Butte Copper Project 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 highest grade copper deposit in development in the world. This means that the production of a significant amount of copper requires only a small underground operation.

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A unique Location

The copper lies in carbonate rock which acts as a natural buffer. This, combined with 21st century mining methods allows us to protect the environment as we go and completely reclaim the site to grazing at end of mine life.

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A much needed economic Opportunity

The project presents tremendous opportunity to White Sulphur Springs and surrounding communities for jobs, economic development, tax revenue, and improved infrastructure.

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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.

  • The water is our top priority. We’re going above and beyond to ensure we meet the law 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 4 years. On average, this more than 2 years longer than most traditional mining sites.
  • We will manage all tailings in a way that prevents ore waste from being left on the surface to oxidize.

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 people 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 rancher 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 plan respects the people 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 started will ensure that sufficient funds are available to properly reclaim all disturbances at the site.
  • Nearly all land will return to agricultural production after reclamation.

“It is clear to me that Sandfire Resources America is committed to not only responsible development of this project, but also in preserving our water resources, wildlife and future of Meagher County.”

Chris Hedrich, Chief Loan Officer/Senior Vice President, Bank of the Rockies

Project Partners

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 plan a safe underground mining project that protects the environment.


Environmental Protection

We are committed to environmental protection. From four years of base line 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.


Water Quality & Quantity

Protecting the Smith River Valley watershed is crucial. Our team are experts in gathering accurate data about both water quality and quantity, and they have the expertise to analyze it correctly to ensure we protect all water resources and follow the letter of the law.


Local Staff & Leadership

The leaders of the Black Butte Copper Project value honesty and integrity above all in moving this project forward.


Local Vendors

We are proud to be part of the community of White Sulphur Springs and enjoy doing business with local businesses to ensure “our project” is done right from the beginning.


Board of Directors

Our world class investors lead with integrity and strongly value community input and traditions.


Mine Design

Our 21st Century mine design optimizes environmental protection.


Black Butte Copper Project Timeline

Quarter 4 2015

Mine Operating Permit application submitted to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

Ongoing metallurgy studies.

Quarter 1 2016

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality conducts its “completeness and compliance” phase of the Mine Operating Permit application.

Ongoing metallurgy studies.

Quarter 1 2018

Mine construction expected to begin, taking 2-3 years to complete.


Mine operations expected to begin.

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.