Copper’s future shines bright in Mining City - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Copper’s future shines bright in Mining City

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BUTTE - Montana Resources has been blasting, digging and hauling away rock from the Continental Pit in Butte for the past 33 years.

As the mining operations continue to chip away at the East Ridge, the town built on mining has to accept that there is a limit to how far it can go.

“This is as far east as the Continental Mine goes,” said Mike McGivern, VP of HR at Montana Resources. “This is the border. We won’t go any further east at this point, there are no plans.”

The days of underground mining are gone. And while open pit mining is much safer, it does require plenty of open space. And space is something Montana Resources is lacking.

“They’re tight against the interstate, on the north side you’ve got the hill, to the west you’ve got the Berkeley Pit and then to the south you’ve got the town,” said Scot Rosenthal, Department Head and Assistant Professor at Montana Tech’s Mining Engineering Dept. “So (they are) pretty confined, but it’s still a pretty good footprint. You have to be careful blasting, obviously, you don’t want to be raining rocks on the interstate.”

Montana Resources officials are confident they’ve got another 30 years of life in this mine. On the diggings east site, they are moving 100,000 tons of earth a day.

“Currently we’re mining all waste,” said Travis Chiotti, mine superintendent. “The waste is used to develop our dam, tailings dam impoundment. And then as we get into ore, and we expect to be into ore in about two years, about 2020 will be into a considerable amount of ore and that when that material will go to the concentrator.”

The highest point of Montana Resources is more than 6,200 feet above sea level. Mine officials are confident they’ve got another 30 years of mining thanks to an ore body that is estimated at more than 300 million tons.

“We’re mining for the future,” said McGivern. “We hope to hit ore in a couple years, it’s going to be some high-grade ore. About twice as rich of a copper ore body as what we’re currently mining, which is going to help up blend with our moly that’s in the lower part of the mine.”

“You know, we should be able to keep mining for 30 plus years, that’s the goal, that’s what we’re doing up here,” he added.

Having a rich ore body will help in that goal, but another factor is copper prices, which are currently high. Experts speculate the future of copper is solid.

“You know, people want an electric car, that’s great,” said Rosenthal. “There’s 21 pounds of copper in an electric car. Our standard automobile has three pounds of copper in it.” “So as people want new electronics there’s always that need for copper,” Rosenthal added. “If we get some of the infrastructure released from the feds or the state, that means steel, that means construction of roads and bridges.”

“Mining may cease in Butte and, again, it’s a long way from now, it’s hard to say when it will ever come to an end,” said McGivern. “But I don’t like to think in those terms. I like to think that we’ve got a positive outlook, we’ve got good prices, we’ve got great safety going on and you never know what’s under Butte, Montana. We are the Richest Hill on Earth. There’s more drilling that can be done. You never say never in Butte.”

“There’s a lot of copper still in this town,” McGivern said.

Montana Resources employs about 350 people and that number should stay consistent in the future.

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