Late last week, a judge ruled that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality “inadequately” analyzed the potential environmental impacts of the Black Butte Copper Project, which is near a tributary of the Smith River.

On July 16, 2021, District Court Judge Bidegaray heard oral arguments from plaintiffs and defendants regarding a legal complaint filed on June 4, 2020, by Montana Trout Unlimited, Montana Environmental Information Center, Trout Unlimited, Earthworks and Americas River against the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (Montana DEQ) and Tintina Montana Inc. The project is located on private ranch land in Meagher County owned by Sandfire Resources Americas’ subsidiary, Tintina Montana.

On April 8, Judge Bidegaray granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment stating that the Montana DEQ violated the Montana Metal Mines Reclamation Act (MMRA) and Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) in its analysis of issuing a mine operating permit for the mine. The judge found the agency’s determination that storage of tailings, and specifically a plan to use cement to stabilize and store tailings, reached unsupported or questionable conclusions. The judge also found that DEQ’s permitting violated MMRA’s independent review process required for tailings facility design. The judge also ruled that DEQ exempting the proposed tailings facility from the “rigorous substantive and procedural requirements” for ensuring the safety of the facility was inaccurate.

A remedy will be decided after additional briefing, due to the court within 45 days.

Sandfire said upon receipt of the judge’s remedy, it will have a clearer picture of the impact, if any, on the project development timeline. It is also reviewing the decision and said it will make a plan going forward.

“We have gone above and beyond industry standards to satisfy Montana’s permitting requirements, which provide one of the toughest regulatory processes worldwide,” Sandfire America Senior Vice President Jerry Zieg said. “The Montana DEQ has done comprehensive, diligent work in the environmental and technical analyses and the project continues to be cited as one of the most comprehensive and safest mining plans Montana has ever seen. This is an ongoing process and we continue to have confidence in our project.”

Sandfire holds an 87% interest, via Canadian listed company Sandfire Resources America Inc., in the high-grade Black Butte Copper Project, located in central Montana in the United States.

Project permitting for Black Butte was completed in April 2020, with the Montana DEQ releasing the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on March 13, 2020, and issuing a positive Record of Decision (ROD) to grant a Mine Operating Permit (MOP) on April 9, 2020.