Proposed Copper Mine on Headwaters of the Smith River

In 2014 we took action to stop the state of Montana from permitting a copper mine in the headwaters of the Smith River. It’s now 2016, and the same proposal is back. 

A small Canadian company, Tintina Resources, has partnered with Australian mining firm Sandfire Resources and applied for to develop a large copper mine directly adjacent to and underneath Sheep Creek at the headwaters of the Smith River in central Montana. The project, known as the Black Butte Copper Mine, is located approximately 20 miles north of White Sulphur Springs in central Montana.

Smith Mine Map 1

The proposed mine is particularly a concern because the mine will have to dig into sulfide minerals, which when exposed to air and water, can react to form sulfuric acid in a process known as acid mine drainage. Acid mine drainage is highly toxic to fish and other aquatic life.

Groundwater pumping from mining activities could potentially lower the water table, and create a “cone of depression” that extends to the Sheep Creek alluvium – posing a threat to adjacent stream flows. The Smith River, and Sheep Creek, already suffer from low flows during most years, putting pressure on downstream water users and preventing the fishery from reaching its potential.

Groundwater that is captured in the tunnel will contain arsenic and other toxic substances that pose a serious threat to water quality. While Vancouver, B.C. headquartered Tintina Resources is managing the project, Sandfire Resources recently purchased a controlling stake in the proposal, meaning that major decisions will now be made by a board of directors located over 8,000 miles away.

In 2016 we are working with expert scientists to, first, analyze the application and understand what’s being proposed, and second, to work with partner organizations in hosting educational public forums on the proposal and what’s at stake. Tinting Resource’s has stated several times that it has interest – and mineral rights – to several other sites in the same watershed. This means the proposed copper mine could very well be the tip of the iceberg, where one short-term, risky mine turns out to be the beginning of a new mining district on the side of the Little Belt Mountains.

Montana has a long legacy of mining projects that have degraded our rivers and streams, and cost taxpayers millions of dollars in ongoing clean-up. The Smith River is too special a place to put at risk for corporate profits.