Barrick’s Golden Sunlight Mine in Whitehall is looking to work with Nevada Gold Mine to reprocess its tailings — a move that could remove a potential groundwater pollutant and provide 60 or more jobs to the area.
Processing is expected to begin in 2022, producing up to 200kt of sulfide concentrate per year, according to Barrick.
Golden Sunlight stopped gold mining operations last year, but immediately began looking for a way to process its tailings as an alternate source of revenue.
Currently, Golden Sunlight is in the process of receiving approval from the Montana Bureau of Land Management and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality for this new venture, and depending on how smoothly the review goes, that could happen by the fall of 2021, said Chuck Buus, manager with Barrick Golden Sunlight, adding that the deal with NGM is dependent upon state approval.
The jobs would include heavy equipment and flotation operators, as well as truckers to transport the material to Nevada, said Buus.
Because some of those jobs require a good deal of training, hiring could begin in the summer of 2021, said Buus.
Buus said the plans seem to be well-received in the community, and in addition to jobs, any added infrastructure will also provide tax revenue to Jefferson County.
At its peak, the Golden Sunlight employed 300 people. Today, it has 18 remaining and those employees work to complete reclamation and closure, said Buus.
Jefferson County Commissioner Leonard Wortman said at Friday’s Community Transition Advisory Committee (CTAC) meeting that as the county begins to work on its fiscal 2021 budget, it expects to lose about $750,000 from Golden Sunlight in net and gross proceeds because of its closure last year.
The net proceeds are from the sale of the minerals obtained from the mine, he said, adding that what the project with Nevada Gold MIne will bring in is unknown, as there are still minerals to be obtained from the tailings.
The county’s total budget is $21.8 million and that includes grants and metal mine trust monies, said Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder Bonnie Ramey, adding that the county won’t know the total extent of the loss until it received the taxable value from the Department of Revenue in August.
There are about 26 million tons of tailings at Golden Sunlight and the processing would go at roughly the same pace as mining, so the facility is looking at a 10-15 year process, said Buus.
The tailings at Golden Sunlight contain significant amounts of sulfur, and Nevada Gold Mine is looking for an alternative source of the material to aid in extracting gold.
Typically, naturally occurring sulfur in gold ore acts as an adequate fuel source, but Nevada Gold Mine’s ores are below the required levels.
That’s where tailings reprocessing can fill the gap, according to a press release from Barrick Golden Sunlight.
Golden Sunlight’s tailings can provide a reliable, low cost, bulk source of sulfur that could meet Nevada Gold Mine’s long term needs, according to Barrick.
Testing at Golden Sunlight has revealed a sulfur concentrate can be produced via floatation, which would leave a more stable flotation tailing with a low sulfur content that would be thickened and used to back-fill the open pit, according to Barrick.
By removing the tailings, it also removes the source of water contamination and the need for perpetual water treatment, said Buus.
Barrick’s Golden Sunlight Mine has been in operation since 1982, producing 3.3 million ounces through both open pit and underground operations. Mining ceased in 2019 and the operation has moved into care and maintenance.
This led the NGM team to seek an alternative long-term solution that would provide a reliable, low cost, bulk source of sulfur that could meet NGM’s long term needs, according to a company press release. At the same time, Barrick’s Golden Sunlight Mine had been looking at reprocessing tailings from historic workings that contain significant quantities of sulfur as part of the environmental rehabilitation of the site, according to a company press release.