MTPR

Berkeley Pit

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.

Weather Pushes Back Project To Treat Berkeley Pit Water

Mar 14, 2019
The Berkeley pit in Butte, Montana, as seen from above.
NASA (CC-BY-2)

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — Last month's harsh winter weather has delayed a pilot project that aims to stop the rise of toxic water in Butte's Berkeley Pit.

Montana Resources' Mark Thompson tells The Montanan Standard the mining pit is still frozen over, construction has slowed and the project to treat and discharge the water isn't expected to begin until June.

Mark Mariano does daily waterfowl observations rounds at the Berkeley Pit during migration season. October 2018.
Nora Saks / MTPR

With the fall bird migration now in full swing, the companies in charge of Butte’s Berkeley Pit are using their new and improved scientific bird-hazing program to keep birds away. This week, their program got put to the test.

Two years ago this November, Butte made national headlines when several thousand late-migrating snow geese landed on the Berkeley Pit, exhausted and died. The huge numbers overwhelmed the companies jointly in charge of managing the former open pit copper mine and their usual methods of hazing birds off the massive toxic lake it now contains. 

The Parrot Tailings removal project is underway in Butte. September 2018.
Nora Saks

Near Butte’s Civic Center, a massive construction project is going on across the street, in the heart of town. Mammoth excavators gouge out a colossal hole in the ground. Jumbo haul trucks whisk 70 ton loads of chewed-up earth away on repeat.

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