Stillwater Mining Co. is proposing to drill at eight more sites along the Beartooth Face, east of its existing platinum and palladium mine. The drilling could help define its development of its Blitz Mine and add as much as 25 years of mine life to its existing operations.
All of the drill sites are on the Custer National Forest in the general vicinity of the old Benbow chrome mine’s mill site near Dean, MT. The Benbow mill site is proposed as one of five staging areas to transport equipment by helicopter to the drill sites, the Billings Gazette reported.
Stillwater Mining Co. operates the only platinum group metals mine in the United States. The mine features shafts on the west and east sides of the Stillwater River, as well as in the East Boulder River drainage farther northwest.
The proposed drilling will determine the potential for expanding the mine farther to the east. According to the company’s plan, “Depending upon the results of this exploratory drilling program, possible future development and implementation of the Blitz Mine Expansion has the potential to add an additional 25 years or more of mine life to Stillwater Mining Company’s operation.”
Drilling was delayed earlier this summer by wet weather and continued into December, according to Bob Cronholm, of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, which permits the project for the state. Ruen Drilling, of Clark Fork, ID, is drilling the bore holes. Work in 2014 is planned to run from May to October the Billings Gazette reported.
The hole drilled for the alignment of the mine portal was the deepest drilled – about 6,000 ft deep, Cronholm said. The geology in that area, which features rock stacked at opposing angles, prompted the mining company to reassess its original portal plan, he added.
Because of the high mountain location of some of the drill sites – 7,200 to 8,800 ft – some whitebark pine trees may be removed. Stillwater Mining said a Forest Service representative would review the drill sites prior to “site preparation to pre-approve removal of all large trees and all live whitebark pine trees. Whenever possible, felling of healthy cone-bearing whitebark pine trees will be avoided.”
Whitebark pine is considered warranted for listing as an endangered species because of shrinking populations, but has not been protected because of other federal priorities. The trees produce nuts that are an important food for several species, including grizzly bears.
The Beartooth Ranger District, which oversees the permitting of the project, is seeking public comments on Stillwater Mining’s proposal.
Helicopters would fly drilling equipment into the sites, meaning no new roadways would be built. Water for drilling would be hauled in or tapped from nearby streams. The drills may require up to 25 gallons a minute of water to cool the diamond-tipped bits and flush the cuttings.
Stillwater Mining Co. has posted a $250,000 reclamation bond and agreed to monitor the drill sites for weed infestations for three years.