BUTTE — To better control dust from leaving the Butte mine, Montana Resources is going to use three 240-ton water trucks. It takes big equipment to do a big job.
“It’s aesthetically unattractive and can have certain health implications, so it’s important this dust is controlled and doesn’t blow out of here and go somewhere else,” said Mark Thompson, Vice President of Environmental Affairs at Montana Resources.
With hotter and drier weather, dust control has become a daily task once winter is done. The task is twofold: first, using water on the mine roads where their haul trucks run; and two, using a magnesium chloride mix to dampen the dust in the Yankee Doodle tailings pond where mine waste is stored.
A crew spends the day wetting down material in the 700-acre tailings dump to prevent the wind from blowing it into the air.
“We spray just to keep the dust down when we have windstorms so there isn’t a big cloud hanging over the mine and covering Butte in dust,” said dust control crew member Jack Galle.
The mining is using more magnesium chloride to control the tailings dust:
- In 2020, the mine used 60,000 gallons.
- In 2021, it went through 230,000 gallons.
- In 2022 so far, they’ve already used 120,000 gallons as of April after strong wind events.
“We say two consecutive days of wind gusts in excess of 65 mph, that’s hurricane-force winds. We might have an event like that and go two, three, four years until the next event. We had two events like that back-to-back,” said Thompson.
The dust control crew had to jump into action.
“They kicked it into overdrive that morning and by noon, there was no more dust and when the big winds in the afternoon—there was nothing off of this beach. It was all as a result of those guys' dedication to controlling dust off this facility,” said Thompson.
Out on the Yankee Doodle tailings pond, it’s a desolate environment; it’s almost like walking on the moon with fine particulate everywhere. It’s a challenge to keep it under control, but the folks at Montana Resources say they’re up for the challenge.
“A good friend of mine, he actually lives right up over there, he said to me once, ‘You know, if you pick a fight with God, sometimes you’re going to lose.’ So, we’re not going to tell anybody that we’re going to be perfect up here all of the time, but we’re going to get better and better and the times we’re not perfect are going to get fewer and fewer,” said Thompson.