In the first half of the last decade, the world was in the midst of a commodities boom, and mining firms were seemingly springing up on a weekly basis, in the rush to convert mineral resources into wealth. Many of these firms closed operations shortly afterwards – their fortunes fading with that of the commodity prices they staked their futures on. By contrast, Sandfire Resources, founded in 2003, is the second-largest publicly listed copper producer in Australia.
The ongoing success of Sandfire Resources is testament to its founders, a group of Australian mining entrepreneurs, each with over 30 years of experience in exploration, development and mining. Beginning back in 2009 with the DeGrussa Copper-Gold Mine in Western Australia, their most recent project is the Black Butte Copper Project. We recently caught up with Karl Simich, Managing Director and CEO of Sandfire Resources, to talk about the project and its impact on Montana in the United States.
Introducing the Black Butte Copper Project
The Black Butte Copper Project is the first time that Sandfire Resources has ventured outside of its home country, Australia. Located in central Montana, it bought into and funded the project through Canadian mining firm Tintina Resources. Sandfire Resources has already invested over several million in Tintina and holds a 61% stake. Both companies have made a strong commitment to doing it right from the beginning = in every sense of the word.
At full capacity, it will employ 265 direct employees and full-time contractors and as Mr. Simich tells us, “Black Butte will be the largest employer in a 100km radius, creating economic opportunity for the region while building transferrable skills to a workforce. Young and talented students have not been returning to their homes after attending college, and workers who would traditionally remain on family owned ranches have been forced to look for employment in other counties and states. They all want to come home.”
The project is also something of a coup for Sandfire Resources to show what it can do. As well as holding around 600,000 tonnes of copper, it has the potential to generate substantial social and economic benefits over the course of its initial 11-14 year project life, with outstanding exploration upside. What’s more, as a wholly underground mine, its surface impact is absolutely minimal.
Contributing to Montana
Montana has lost many of its young skilled people to other regions and Sandfire Resources and Tintina are committed to making a lasting impact on the community and bringing some of them home. As well as working with all local stakeholders, it is committed to transparency and ensuring all environmental regulations are met and exceeded. It is estimated that the projected will increase the tax take by around $20 million a year – money which can go a considerable way towards developing infrastructure and social projects in the area.
As Mr. Simich points out: “Our responsibilities are many. Perhaps one of the most important things we can do with this project is to set a new standard, not only in Montana, but for the international mining industry. By meeting all exacting non-degradation standards, treating all waters on site and by returning this leased land back to full agricultural use once we have completed mining sets an example that we believe the industry will hold as a showcase for future mining projects.”
Balancing economic growth with the protection of natural resources
The mining industry has developed its environmental credentials considerably over the past 30 years, with projects having to pass a number of ESG criteria before gaining the green light. The Black Butte Copper Mining Project was no different in this regard. In fact, Montana is even more stringent than most in this area as it has a rich tradition of caring for the land.
Mr. Simich says: “In addition to this, we have recently hosted visits from four Montana tribal organizations who have appreciated our efforts to be respectful and minimize our environmental footprint. Our next outreach step is creating a Stakeholders Group made up of all segments of our community to make sure we are adding environmental and economic value to create a net positive impact. We can and will protect the environment. Montana has some of the strongest environmental laws in the world and we will meet and exceed them.”
The Black Butte Copper Mining Project will use proven environmental protection methods, which will ensure any land which is disturbed through the mining process will be restored to its original condition after operations have finished. It’s a complex process, but one which Simich says “eliminates the need for a tailings pond, so there is no significant seepage, no danger of impoundment failure, and quick and thorough reclamation of the area back to its current use, cattle grazing.”
As the first international project of Sandfire Resources, its management are clearly looking to Black Butte to set a benchmark on a number of aspects, not least the environmental side. As Mr. Simich says: ““I want to make it clear that we will work in consultation with all of our stakeholders, including the environmental and social groups in the region and the State. We have a commitment to returning the project location to its prior use.”
Right from the beginning, right into the future
The Black Butte Project is considered one of the top 10 best projects of its kind globally. This in itself gives ample indication of the kind of impact that it can have on all of its stakeholders. As “To put it simply, we’re talking about jobs; we’re talking about increased county, state and federal taxes; and we’re talking about a positive knock-on or multiplier effect, both during construction and operations, which could really be quite significant for the region,” says Mr. Simich of the project.
The state of Montana is sometimes called the ‘Treasure State,’ and the ongoing success of the Black Butte project supports this lofty claim.
For More on Sandfire Resources visit www.sandfire.com.au
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