The rigorous permitting process in Montana includes an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) and multiple public comment periods. Black Butte Copper successfully reached the end of a 4-year permitting process when the Montana Department of Environment Quality (DEQ) issued a positive Record of Decision (RoD) on April 9, 2020 that will allow the Black Butte Copper to go forward.
In July of 2020, the Company set in place a reclamation surety bond for the first phase of a two phase development process and in August 2020, the Mine Operating Permit (MOP) for Black Butte Copper was issued by the DEQ with construction under the phase 1 development began August 17, 2020. Phase 2 will commence upon resolution of the legal challenges and approval of the board with development will allow completion of mine construction in approximately 24 months and requires posting of an additional reclamation bond.
Sandfire Resources America Inc. takes protecting all water resources seriously. Therefore, careful management is critical to maintaining water quality and quantity as Montana law, through its Mine Operating Permit structure, requires neither water QUALITY nor QUANTITY can be degraded in development, operation, and closure and reclamation of a mine.
To protect the water for quality and quantity, the Black Butte Copper underground mine is designed with the following features:
- In order to keep water from leaving the mine after closure and mixing with stream water, all planned openings or entry points to the mine (including air ventilation and escape routes) are located far above the water table and the tunnel entry location was specifically chosen because it is almost 200 feet above the water level.
- All ground water from the mine and surface water from precipitation will be collected, monitored, tested, and treated before being placed back into the ground water system through an underground infiltration system buried 6-8 ft. below the surface. There is zero discharge to surface waters. Water temperature will also be monitored and maintained through this system.
- A Reverse Osmosis (RO) water treatment plant will be constructed on-site for the duration of the mining operation and will remain there for as long as it is needed.
Making sure that community concerns are always part of the Black Butte Copper discussion has led the Company to fund the creation of an independent, non-profit citizens group to champion the long term environmental, culture, and economic interests of Meagher county residents called the Meagher County Stewardship Council (MCSC). MCSC formed in 2018 with community leaders from both sides of the mine issue to ensure that the mining project never compromises the core values of watershed conservation and community vitality.
MCSC is currently negotiating with the Company a long-term Community Benefits Agreement that will be binding on both parties and make sure that both entities work together through local representation regardless of Company ownership. They expect completion of the agreement in 2023.
Over the years of baseline testing and permitting, the Company has earned the support of the local community of White Sulphur Springs (WSS) and Meagher County for Black Butte Copper by being transparent and supportive of community needs. If you travel to WSS you will see signs in nearly every business in town supporting the project and the Meagher County Commissioners have passed positive resolutions for the project as well as sent letters of support.
The Company prioritizes making sure there is continued focus on our local communities by addressing concerns upfront and ensuring that such concerns are always dealt with transparently and in the community’s best interest.
Protecting ecological system integrity is a top priority of the Company for ground leased by Black Butte Copper. The cattle ranchers from whom Black Butte Copper leases land highly value the health of their rangeland and its protection from noxious weeds. If not addressed, noxious weeds can damage the economic stability and environmental integrity of an ecosystem. Across the nation, successful management of these landscapes require an aggressive noxious weed management plan. To ensure proper noxious weed management, the Company contracts specialists to identify non-native weed locations and to complete a specified spray program to control and if possible, eliminate noxious weeds. In addition, the noxious weed team completes a yearly survey and develops an annual plan for future monitoring and follow-up activities to control and eliminate noxious weeds.