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Montana Resources on target to begin pumping and treating Pit water

A section of unfused pipe rests last summer in an area of the mine located above the Berkeley Pit. Once fused, the pipe will transport between 3 million and 7 million gallons of pit water to various places around the mine for treatment before eventually making its way to Silver Bow Creek. 

The Berkeley Pit pilot project won’t get off the ground until summer, mine officials say.

A complex web of pipes that runs all around the mining operation with pit stops at various types of treatment facilities, the Berkeley Pit pilot project is intended to stop the rise of the most metal-contaminated water in the United States, four years ahead of the original plan.

Montana Resources originally aimed for the treated water to hit Silver Bow Creek at the end of 2018. The date got pushed back to late March or early April. Now Mark Thompson, Montana Resources vice president of environmental affairs, says that due to “epic” weather in February, the companies will be delayed until June.

“It was a very ambitious construction schedule to begin with,” Thompson said this week.

Montana plunged into one of the coldest months on record for some parts of the state last month. The Berkeley Pit froze over. It is still frozen, Thompson said.

Thompson says the weather slowed down the construction process and some necessary materials haven’t arrived yet.

“We agreed to a very aggressive schedule and there’s always potential for delays,” he said.

Atlantic Richfield Company, which has co-responsibility for the pit, said last year the polishing plant won’t be complete until mid-2019. Thompson said MR doesn’t have to wait on that construction to be finished to discharge some water.

The polishing plant, which is going up on Shields Avenue just west of MR’s front gate, will be the last pit stop the water makes on its way out of the mining operation. Before it gets there, it will circulate through MR’s copper recovery process, the Horseshoe Bend Water Treatment Plant, the mine’s operations and Yankee Doodle Tailings Pond before the water gets “polished” and shoots out of a pipe into Silver Bow Creek at the confluence.

The Environmental Protection Agency originally set 2023 as the point-of-no-return date for pumping and treating to begin and last forever. The water is acidic and contains a cornucopia of metals.

Whenever the companies are ready to hit the green light, they have to demonstrate for the EPA that they can release water that will not harm humans or the environment and that it will meet water quality standards when it gets to the creek.

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Nat'l Resources / General Reporter

Environmental and natural resources reporter for the Montana Standard.

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