We live here. Protecting the land,
water and wildlife is our top priority.
Here’s what we know. We can responsibly access our valuable natural resources and preserve the environment that is so critically important to all who live here.
These are the facts:
- The Black Butte Copper Project is located about 17 miles North of White Sulphur Springs on privately owned ranch land.
- This will be an underground mine. Traditional land uses will remain intact.
- To protect the Smith River and all water resources, the cemented tailings facility will be at least 1 mile from Sheep Creek, and will be completely separated from the Sheep Creek Valley by a large hill.
- Because the deposit is high grade, we can afford to go above and beyond standard safety and engineering practices to protect the environment and restore the site completely.
Studies & Planning
The plan for Black Butte Copper Project combines local knowledge and vision with 21st century mining methods and worldwide expertise.
Sandfire has installed 42 groundwater monitoring stations in the areas surrounding the mining site and 11 surface water sites that gather baseline information regularly. To fully understand the system, we have gathered 4 years of baseline data, 2 more than the industry average.
We’ve completed extensive testing to properly classify all the rocks that will be mined. Our current test results show that most of the excess rock that will result from mining at Black Butte is non-acid generating (NAG). However as an added precaution all rock, whether it is potentially acid generating (PAG) or not (NAG), will be managed as if it were PAG through our high tech cemented tailings plan. We’ve completed extensive testing to properly classify all the rocks that will be mined. Any rock with Potentially Acid Generating (PAG) characteristics will be identified and managed through our cemented tailings facility. Our current test results show that most of the excess rock that will result from mining at Black Butte is non-acid generating (NAG).
Our plan for the Cemented Tailings Facility is the most comprehensive and sophisticated approach to tailings management that the industry has ever seen. We’ve designed the safest solution. Not the cheapest.
Protecting the Water
“Nobody here believes that this is going to pollute our rivers. We consider ourselves environmentalists. We’re the ones that live it everyday.”
Ben Hurwitz, Meagher County Commissioner and rancher on Sheep Creek
We take protecting all the water resources seriously. Because the sulfide minerals that form the copper zone can create acid if not handled correctly and if allowed to oxidize, their careful management is critical to maintaining water quality.
Here’s how we’re ensuring that the water in Sheep Creek and the Smith River will remain pristine throughout the lifecycle of the project and beyond.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 it’s needed.
Universal access to clean water depends on many things, one of which is copper. Accessing that copper requires mining. Learn about the science and technology that is driving the vision and plan for the Black Butte Copper Project.
Dr. Lisa Kirk, Principal Geochemist and President/owner of Enviromin, Inc., Bozeman, MT.
“Our underground, small footprint mine will be completely different than any previous operation seen in Montana. Most serious legacy issues are related to open pit mines involving much larger volumes of rock, huge waste piles and giant tailings disposal facilities. The Black Butte Copper Project does not look or operate like these old mines.”
Beyond the Project
Sandfire will carry out and pay for all reclamation activities during operations and following mine closure as required by law. As a safety net for the citizens of Montana, if for some unforeseen reason this cannot happen, the State of Montana requires mining companies to provide adequate reclamation bonding.
What will the site look like after the mine closes?
All buildings will be removed except those needed by the landowner. The mill and portal area, and all roadways, will return to historic use which is primarily cattle grazing.
What happens to the community?
Montana is unique in that we are the only state that has a Hard Rock Mining Impact Act. This act requires taxes to be paid upfront to allow local governments to mitigate impacts of mining and build facilities and infrastructure projects as they are needed. These improvements benefit the community long after the mine closes.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
Are there things we can do to enhance the fisheries?
Yes, we are looking forward to working with our conservation community to enhance the fisheries. This is an important area for cut throat restoration and we believe there are opportunities for us to assist in these important efforts. We have established a “stakeholders” group to listen to concerns of the conservation community and to get their input on conservation enhancements.
What happens to the water once it is pumped out of the mine workings?
All of the water not consumed by the milling process at the mine will go through the reverse osmosis (RO) water treatment plant and then be returned immediately back to the groundwater system through an underground infiltration system. The consumptive use rate of the mine is 210 gpm; resulting in any additional water pumped being returned directly to the groundwater system (210-290 gpm).