MTPR

Berkeley Pit

Treated water originating from the Berkeley Pit is discharged into Silver Bow Creek via a 24 inch buried pipe behind these rocks and manhole, Sept. 30, 2019.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

This week, for the first time ever, once toxic water from the Berkeley Pit, the abandoned open pit copper mine in Butte, is being treated and released into the headwaters of the Clark Fork River.

Tim Hilmo (L), Ron Halsey (M) and Greg Frisch (R) with Atlantic Richfield company stand in front of the point where treated water originating in the Berkeley Pit is being discharged into Silver Bow Creek in Butte. September 30, 2019.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

For the first time ever, once-toxic water from the Berkeley Pit, Butte’s abandoned open pit copper mine, is being pumped, treated and discharged into Silver Bow Creek.

Yankee Doodle Tailings Impoundment. Butte, MT. Oct. 3, 2018.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

Butte mining company Montana Resources now has the go-ahead from state officials to expand its waste storage facility northeast of town and the Berkeley Pit.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued its final decision Friday allowing the copper mining company to build the Yankee Doodle Tailings Impoundment 50 feet higher.

AR's operations manager, Ron Halsey, stands in front of the intake pipe that siphons water originating indirectly from the Berkeley Pit into this new water polishing plant. August 6, 2019.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

37 years ago, Atlantic Richfield abandoned an open pit copper mine in Butte and allowed it to flood with toxic mine water. Now, the company estimates they’re one month away from proving they’re in control of the Berkeley Pit. MTPR's Nora Saks got a sneak peek of their new water treatment facility and has more.

Loren Burmeister (L) and Josh Bryson (R) are the liability business manager and operations project manager for Atlantic Richfield in Butte, pictured outside the company's local headquarters. April 22, 2019
Nora Saks

After more than 30 years, the Environmental Protection Agency, the state of Montana and Butte Silver Bow County are close to signing a final Superfund deal with Atlantic Richfield for the cleanup of the Butte Hill and creek corridors in town. Atlantic Richfield, the former American oil giant, is the company on the hook for most of the pollution caused by historic mining and smelting operations in Butte and across the upper Clark Fork River basin.

The Berkeley Pit.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

Atlantic Richfield is proposing to build a new water treatment plant to further lower the level of the toxic lake inside the Berkeley Pit, in case the tailings dam that sits directly above it ever fails.

I live a mile away from the Berkeley Pit, the mile by mile and a half wide former open-pit mine, which is now filled with a 50 billion gallon toxic lake. Every time I visit, I leave hyper aware of the contradictions and compromises that go hand in glove with industrialization. I find myself wondering: who thought chiseling a colossal hole in the Earth was a good idea, and why? So today, let’s take a dive, figuratively, into open pit mining and some controversial decisions made late last century that changed Butte’s land, people, and environmental legacy forever. This is Episode 4: We Gave it to the Pit.

A map from a Montana Resources permit request showing the location of a proposed limestone mine near Drummond, Mont.
Montana Department of Environmental Quality

A proposal for a new limestone mine near Drummond is now open for public comment.

A subsidiary of the Washington Companies is seeking a permit from the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to operate a 546-acre open pit mine two-and-a-half miles west of Drummond.

The Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana.
Corin Cates-Carney / Montana Public Radio

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — Treated water that was contaminated by toxic mining waste is being pumped out of Butte's Berkeley Pit.

The Montana Standard reports that officials last week started pumping out about 3 million gallons a day, which is roughly the daily amount of water entering in the pit.

State officials say a proposed expansion to Montana Resources’ tailings impoundment in Butte next to its active copper mine there won’t impact groundwater.

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