Montana regulators issue key permits for Black Butte Copper Mine

March 16, 2020

Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality issued an environmental review that moves Sandfire America’s proposed Black Butte Copper Mine closer to permitting. The mine is in central Montana along a tributary of the Smith River, one of the state's most popular recreational rivers.
Two Montana government agencies each issued important components of the overall permitting process for the Black Butte Copper project which are key to the project receiving a Record of Decision (RoD) for its Mine Operating Permit (MOP).

The Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (MTDEQ) and the Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (MTDNRC) has issued a Preliminary Determination (PD) in response to the water right owners’ application to modify their irrigation water rights to include leasing water for mitigation for the Black Butte Copper project. The proposed water right modification maintains water balance in the Sheep Creek drainage area.

The decision states that Sandfire Resources would have to mitigate the potential for mining activity to reduce the flow of Coon Creek near the proposed Black Butte Copper Mine near White Sulphur Springs.

“When Tintina pumps ground water out of the mine, our analysis shows that surface water will be depleted, and it's critical that those depletions are replaced by another water supply so that existing water users are protected,” said John Tubbs, director of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

The Associated Press reported that DNRC has preliminarily granted a permit for Sandfire Resources to store spring runoff in a reservoir to release into streams later. It has also given the preliminary approval for area ranches to sell some of their existing irrigation rights to Sandfire Resources to supplement stream flows or recharge the aquifer, Tubbs said.

The DEQ's “preferred alternative” also calls for projec to backfill mined areas to prevent any new paths for groundwater to flow.

The achievement of these key milestones requires the MTDEQ to release a Record of Decision (RoD), whether positive or negative, for Black Butte Copper’s MOP after a minimum of 15 days. Issuance of a positive RoD would require the MTDEQ to finalize a bond calculation within 40 days- paving the way for the commencement of construction at Black Butte.

DEQ Director Shaun McGrath stated, “The Final EIS represents a thorough evaluation of the potential impacts of this proposed project. Our review was informed not only by the DEQ scientists working on the project, but also by the thousands of comments submitted throughout the process. It was truly an extensive effort and we appreciate the public’s interest and participation.”

Sandfire America’s CEO and VP of Project Development, Rob Scargill, said: “We are delighted to have achieved these key milestones, which represent the culmination of a robust and lengthy permitting process. Together with our team of Montana-based environmental consultants, we have demonstrated that a modern underground mine can be developed and operated while fully protecting the environment and water resources.”


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