Montana's mining capital Butte, is facing a multi million dollar toxic waste cleanup at The Berkeley Pit, which has been polluted due to copper
mining by companies such as Anaconda Mining Company, which is now owned by BP. Since mining began in in the pit area in 1982, the pit has filled up
with rust colored water which seeped into the pit from higher ground causing it to become Butte's top tourist attraction. If the levels in the lake
rise it will poison the town's water supply and currently pumps are employed to ensure this doesn't happen. The water in the pit is so dangerous
with high concentration levels of copper and arsenic that birds are kept away with gunfire. 342 snow geese died after a visit to the lake in 1995.
"If there is a lesson, it is that actions have consequences; know your consequences," Gavin Scally, Atlantic Richfield's deputy regional manager said
about its history.
What to do about the consequences is set out in a 2002 court-approved deal in which Atlantic Richfield and Montana Resources, a separate company which
still mines a nearby pit, assumed joint responsibility for future clean up.
Under that agreement, a $20 million plant and pumps are treating contaminated surface water that used to flow into the Berkeley Pit.
Atlantic Richfield will also start pumping from the Berkeley Pit itself as the water level -- fed by underground aquifers -- begins to approach the
dangerous mark of 5,410 feet (1,649 m) above sea level, something estimated to happen in 2020.
The effort is costing at least $1 million a year. "If we could have come up with a solution that would have been better for the environment and low
cost, we would have done it," Scally said.
"The end of time is a long time so I wonder if all of the value of the copper that we took out will match the expenditure that we will make trying to
clean up the mess," Gov. Schweitzer told Reuters.
The Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology estimates the Butte hill produced more than $48 billion in mineral wealth. The costs included 2,300 deaths
from mining accidents, not including chronic illness sparked by mine exposure.
Even though the Berkeley Pit is not being actively mined, privately owned Montana Resources says it still extracts about 400,000 pounds of copper a
month by filtering the water there.
Russ Forba, the Environmental Protection Agency project manager for Berkeley Pit, estimates the perpetual treatment costs at $100 million, which
includes the cost of inflation and of interest earned on the clean-up funds.
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The spin off to mining. This time the questions are being asked. Was the mining worth it? What cost more, the mining or the cleanup?
Profit versus loss. The problem with that equation is the original polluters are no longer there as the company appears to have been bought and sold a
few times over the years.