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The latest news and info about the Berkeley Pit.

Berkeley Pit awards for student science (2013)

Since 1997, the Berkeley Pit Public Education Committee has given awards at annual Montana Tech Science & Engineering Fairs to students with projects that explore topics related to the Berkeley Pit.

At the 2013 fair, five students received awards for Pit-related projects. Brian McGeehan from Butte Central received an award for his project, How Can We Clean Up the Berkeley Pit Water? Jacob Wheeling of Townsend was recognized for his project, To Drink or Not to Drink. Jordan Russell from Whittier Elementary in Butte was given an award for asking Could We Use Berkeley Pit Water to Irrigate Our Lawns? and Kellen Lean from Hillcrest Elementary in Butte was recognized for Contents of H2O.

At the high school level, Chelsea Anderson from Big Sky High School in Missoula earned the Berkeley award with her project, The Feasibility of Purifying Water in Ethiopia Using Low Cost and Easily Accessible Materials.

Many past winners have gone on to pursue careers in science and technology.

Five-Year Review Report (2011) for the Berkeley Pit

Throughout 2010, the EPA interviewed local citizens and reviewed the status of Butte area Superfund sites, including the Berkeley, as part of a five-year review. The final review report, released in 2011, is available to the public and can be downloaded at the EPA Butte/Silver Bow Creek website. The sections of the report relating to the Butte Mine Flooding Operable Unit, which includes the Berkeley Pit, can be downloaded below.live streaming film Fifty Shades Darker 2017

EPA Third Five Year Review Report (2011) – Vol. 3 – Butte Mine Flooding Operable Unit (BMFOU) (644.3 KiB)

EPA Third Five Year Review Report (2011) – Vol. 3 – Butte Mine Flooding Operable Unit (BMFOU) – Appendix A: Site Photos (1.5 MiB)

EPA Third Five Year Review Report (2011) – Vol. 3 – Butte Mine Flooding Operable Unit (BMFOU) – Appendix B: Responsiveness Summary (96.3 KiB)

EPA Third Five Year Review Report (2011) – Vol. 3 – Butte Mine Flooding Operable Unit (BMFOU) – Figures (2.1 MiB)

If you would like to learn more about the review, call Nikia Greene, EPA Community Involvement Coordinator, at 1-866-457-2690, or visit the Butte EPA office at 155 West Granite (in the Courthouse).

The first stage reactor tank at the Horseshoe Bend Water Treatment Plant, which will eventually treat Berkeley Pit water. Photo from the EPA Five Year Review Report (2011) for the site.

Horseshoe Bend Water Treatment Plant Performance Test (2007)

The first stage reactor tank at the Horseshoe Bend Water Treatment Plant, which will eventually treat Berkeley Pit water. Photo from the EPA Five Year Review Report (2011) for the site.
The first stage reactor tank at the Horseshoe Bend Water Treatment Plant, which will eventually treat Berkeley Pit water.

A performance test of the Horseshoe Bend plant was completed in November 2007, as mandated by the Record of Decision. Based on the performance review, water discharged from the plant meets all discharge standards for contaminants of concern set by the EPA. Additional adjustments still need to be made to address pH. In general, plant operations are going as expected.

The following is EPA’s assessment of the performance test, excerpted from the 2011 Five Year Review Report on the site, pages 43-45:

System Operations/O&M

The influent water for the 2007 Performance Test consisted only of HSB (Horseshoe Bend) water, as water from the Berkeley Pit is not yet required to be pumped and treated in the plant. The results of this test indicated that all final discharge limits could be met except for effluent pH. In order to meet the cadmium limit, the pH in the final treatment stage needed to be raised to 11.2.

Consequently, the effluent pH did not drop to below the discharge standard of 9.5 through natural aeration. Methods for lowering the pH of the effluent to below the discharge standard of 9.5 have been evaluated on a conceptual level, but will require a more formal analysis before final discharge to Silver Bow Creek is necessary.

The results of the performance test also determined a need to revisit the applicability of the final performance standard for beta/photon emitters, which is expressed as a dose of 4 millirem per year (mrem/yr). There are approximately 179 radionuclides that need to be analyzed in order to calculate the actual beta/photon emitter dose, bringing into question the practicality of the laboratory procedures needed to meet the beta/photon standard.

Results of a 2007 performance test of the Horseshoe Bend Water Treatment Plant at the Berkeley Pit, taken from the EPA Five Year Review Report on the site (2011).
Results of a 2007 performance test of the Horseshoe Bend Water Treatment Plant at the Berkeley Pit, taken from the EPA Five Year Review Report on the site (2011). Click on the image to view a larger version.

Opportunities for Optimization

Based on the results of the most recent performance test and plant operations and maintenance activities, there are several areas where optimization is needed. They include:

  1. effluent pH adjustment (when discharge to Silver Bow Creek is necessary),
  2. equipment and pipeline scaling from gypsum and
  3. equipment corrosion issues.

Each of these issues is undergoing various levels of engineering evaluation and testing to determine the best long term course of action.

Early Indicators of Potential Issues

There are no indications of potential equipment problems or operational problems that would put the protectiveness of the HSB WTP at risk. However, it is unknown whether discharge of treated water saturated with gypsum will adversely affect aquatic life in Silver Bow Creek.

It is also possible that delayed precipitation of gypsum could cause exceedances of the TSS discharge standard. This issue will require further evaluation before discharge occurs.

Implementation of Institutional Controls and Other Measures

Based on the information obtained from a review of the site documentation in the administrative record and from interviews with the site RPM and other stakeholders, the ICs implemented for the BMFOU continue to effectively protect the remedy and the public. Publications such as the PITWATCH, inform the public as to progress on the BMFOU. The current DNRC order prohibits use of the BMFOU aquifer for domestic use. Enforcement and monitoring of this prohibition is important.

Berkeley Pit Poster Series: Mining the Berkeley Pit. Click on the image to view a larger version, or use the links at the bottom of the page to download a high-resolution version.

2010 Berkeley Pit Posters

This educational poster series covers Berkeley Pit history and ongoing environmental management at the site. Hard copies of the posters can be requested by emailing info@pitwatch.org. Posters are available free-of-charge for Clark Fork Basin educators and public organizations.

The poster set includes:

Berkeley Pit Poster Series: Butte Mining Through the Years
Berkeley Pit Poster Series: Butte Mining Through the Years. Click on the image to view a larger version, or use the links at the bottom of the page to download a high-resolution version.
Berkeley Pit Poster Series: Mining the Berkeley Pit. Click on the image to view a larger version, or use the links at the bottom of the page to download a high-resolution version.
Berkeley Pit Poster Series: Mining the Berkeley Pit. Click on the image to view a larger version, or use the links at the bottom of the page to download a high-resolution version.
Berkeley Pit Poster Series: The Water Returns. Click on the image to view a larger version, or use the links at the bottom of the page to download a high-resolution version.
Berkeley Pit Poster Series: The Water Returns. Click on the image to view a larger version, or use the links at the bottom of the page to download a high-resolution version.
Berkeley Pit Poster Series: Treating the Water. Click on the image to view a larger version, or use the links at the bottom of the page to download a high-resolution version.
Berkeley Pit Poster Series: Treating the Water. Click on the image to view a larger version, or use the links at the bottom of the page to download a high-resolution version.

Download high-resolution versions of the posters using the links below.

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Irrigating with mine water

Post-mining redevelopment efforts in Butte rely on the availability of water to irrigate vegetation on reclaimed and capped areas. Water recovered from the Belmont mine and other parts of the flooded underground mine workings is a possible source of irrigation water that would reduce the stress on the city water supply, leaving more water in the Big Hole River.

Butte-Silver Bow recently received a grant from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to demonstrate a treatment system at the Belmont Mine on East Mercury Street to determine if it is cost-effective to treat mine water to meet irrigation standards. Following a trial irrigation conducted by MERDI in 2004, a pumping test and treatability study were performed by MSE under the federal Mine Waste Technology Program in 2007 to characterize the water at the Belmont. Results indicated that this water could meet irrigation standards with three unit operations: oxidation, pH adjustment, and solid/liquid separation.

The results of optimized treatment from the treatability tests met target irrigation levels. If the demonstration of the water treatment system and trial irrigation are successful this summer, beneficial reuse of water in the underground mine workings could become a reality and lead to a greener Butte.

Montana Tech geothermal project heats up

The 10,000 miles of underground tunnels beneath Butte have filled with water since the closure of the Berkeley Pit and, in 1982, the shut-off of groundwater pumps that had dewatered the underground in the past. These waters are typically regarded as a liability, but a new project at Montana Tech is viewing the watery mines of Butte as a potential asset.

Tech has been funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to develop a demonstration system for capturing geothermal energy from mine waters beneath Butte. The demonstration will involve the installation of a heat-pump system in Tech’s new Natural Resources Building. The system will provide geothermally-based climate control for the building, illustrating the feasibility of using mine waters in heat-pump systems.

The project utilizes some of the advantages of mine waters compared to other sources of groundwater. Easy access to mine waters
already exists in the form of mine shafts, saving the costs of drilling wells. Butte mine waters are also unusually warm; the mine waters used in this project are consistently 78°F (25°C). Additionally, it takes a lot of water to fill 10,000 miles of tunnel, so there is plenty available for geothermal applications.

Estimates show that heating costs for the Natural Resources Building could be cut by more than half by preheating incoming air with mine waters. By reducing energy needs that would traditionally be met by burning fossil fuels, the project has the added benefit of promoting environmental sustainability by reducing emissions. The concept could also be extended to other regions where warm geothermal waters exist.In mining communities that lie in warmer climates than Butte, cooler mine waters could be used similarly, but for cooling rather than heating.

The project is currently in its early phases. After a feasibility study is completed this year, if all goes as planned, construction could begin in 2011. If successful, the project could be applied to buildings throughout Butte.

Catching up with past Science Fair winners

And announcing our winners for 2009

Since 1997, the Berkeley Pit Education Committee has given awards to area students competing in annual Montana Tech Science and Engineering Fairs who use their projects to explore important topics related to the Berkeley Pit and mine waste cleanup technologies.

At the 2009 fair, three East Middle School students received awards for Pit-related projects: Jessica Robertson for her project on cementation, Katie Metesh for her project on geothermal heating, and Robin Gammons for her project on mining copper from Butte’s groundwater. Many past winners have gone on to pursue careers in science and technology.

Kels Phelps won his first Berkeley Pit awards in 2001 and 2002. Kels went on to win a Berkeley Pit award again in 2006 for his project on the metabolites produced by a microbe growing in the unique environment of Silver Bow Creek.Kels Phelps won his first Berkeley Pit awards in 2001 and 2002. Kels went on to win a Berkeley Pit award again in 2006 for his project on the metabolites produced by a microbe growing in the unique environment of Silver Bow Creek. His research involved isolating a compound produced by the microbe and analyzing its potential for medical applications. Kels was able determine the compound’s molecular structure, and found that it displayed activity in inhibiting enzyme reactions associated with various disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, and cancer metastasis.

A double-major in philosophy and religion at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, Kels is currently completing a semester studying abroad in Trinidad and Tobago. He feels that his experience doing research in the Butte area has served him well.

“The opportunities that I was able to take advantage of, specifically due to the Berkeley Pit and the Upper Clark Fork, provided excellent intellectual stimulation and helped me prepare for college.”

Emily Munday won Berkeley Pit awards in 2000 and 2003 for her projects studying mining’s impact on Silver Bow Creek using aquatic insects as bioindicators of stream health.Emily Munday won Berkeley Pit awards in 2000 and 2003 for her projects studying mining’s impact on Silver Bow Creek using aquatic insects as bioindicators of stream health. She delved deeper into Silver Bow Creek water quality by analyzing parameters such as pH; conductivity; copper concentrations in sediments, insects and water; and nutrient levels.

“I ultimately learned that copper mining has negative impacts on stream health, something that many Buttians know,” Emily stated when asked to reflect on her experience with the science fair. “However, I also learned that after remediation, Silver Bow Creek is recovering and can someday be very similar to what it was historically – before Butte’s mining days. If we continue to care for it, and locate and block or treat ongoing pollution sources like metals runoff from the hill and eutrophication from the waste water treatment plant, Silver Bow Creek will recover and be the trout fishery it once was.”

Emily currently attends Boston University, where she is busy earning a degree in marine science. As part of her studies, she traveled to Belize for a coral reef study. Last summer she interned with the Water Environment Federation at the national headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, helping with the national Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition. This summer, she has a research grant to assess coral reef health in marine protected areas in the Caribbean. She also swims for the BU Terriers, which she describes as her “20-hour per week part-time job.”

“Studying impacted areas in my hometown and learning that there is hope for recovery made me want to use science to protect beautiful places. I am studying marine science because the ocean is an important source of biodiversity, food and oxygen production, and beauty. I want to help people learn about it so we can save it.”

Alexandra Antonioli was a recipient of a Berkeley Pit award in 2002 for her project investigating whether modification of a native Berkeley Pit microbe could be used to enhance the organism’s ability to bind heavy metals. Alexandra Antonioli was a recipient of a Berkeley Pit award in 2002 for her project investigating whether modification of a native Berkeley Pit microbe could be used to enhance the organism’s ability to bind heavy metals. Researchers at Ohio State University had modified an algal strain so that it could bind metals such as cadmium from contaminated soil. Alexandra’s goal was to insert the same gene used to modify the algae into a native Berkeley Pit yeast species. Initial results with the newly modified yeast were promising, but more research is needed to determine the full impact of the organism.

Alexandra graduated from Yale University in 2007 with a B.S. degree in Biophysics and Biochemistry. After graduating she worked full-time as a research assistant in Professor Scott Strobel’s laboratory for two years. Her research investigated an RNA structural motif called the K-turn in the Azoarcus group I intron. This type of advanced research involved structural biochemistry and crystallography.

In August 2009, Alexandra will enter the University of Colorado’s Medical Scientist Training Program where she will earn dual M.D. / Ph.D. degrees. She looks forward to being closer to Montana and is excited for a career in academia as a physician scientist.

“My interest in research started with science fair and the research with the Berkeley Pit. I was fortunate to find mentors like Professor Andrea Stierle and Professor Grant Mitman who encouraged and helped me gain valuable research skills. I think that their excitement about research helped inspire me to study science and continue with research throughout college.”

Today Alexandra considers the Berkeley Pit from a scientific perspective. “As a scientist, I view the Berkeley Pit as a place for exploration and discoveries. Andrea and Don Stierle’s lab has shown that numerous compounds can be isolated from Berkeley Pit waters that have potential antibiotic and anticancer properties. This type of research is extremely challenging because it may take years to isolate, develop, and characterize one compound. However, the rewards of finding a new compound with the drug potential to help thousands of lives are immeasurable.”

To describe her hometown to people in Boston, Emily still refers to the Berkeley Pit with a kind of stubborn pride. “I think that when it is cleaned up, we still need to remember what it looked like so we can use it as an example of how humans can change and destroy a landscape so we don’t make similar environmental mistakes in the future.”

Kels offers a similar view of the Pit, acknowledging the good and the bad. “I think that the Berkeley Pit is the result of some very serious mistakes, and I am a hearty proponent of efforts to contain the damage, and eventually try to restore it, in some way, to some semblance of naturality. I also find it very encouraging to know that, even from such a huge environmental crisis as this, there are positive discoveries that can be made. The compound isolated in my 2006 research doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the potential for novelty that lies in the Berkeley Pit. As long as we have to live with it, we must continue to use it in this way.”

The Yankee Doodle Tailings Pond, part of the active Montana Resources mine that borders the Berkeley Pit, in 2008. Photo by Justin Ringsak.

Above the Pit: The Yankee Doodle Tailings Pond

Looking west from Rampart Mountain over the Yankee Doodle Tailings Pond, located north of the Berkeley Pit, in 2007.

Looking west from Rampart Mountain over the Yankee Doodle Tailings Pond, located north of the Berkeley Pit, in 2007.

North of the Berkeley Pit stands one of the largest earthen dams in the United States. The dam, constructed from waste rock mined out of the Berkeley Pit and, in more recent years, the Continental Pit, stands over 650 feet (200 meters) tall. It holds back the Yankee Doodle tailings impoundment, also known as the Yankee Doodle Tailings Pond. As part of active mining operations, Montana Resources pumps tailings and water to the Yankee Doodle Pond. Lime rock is also added, resulting in a non-acidic pH (above 7.0) tailings slurry, thus mitigating or avoiding the phenomenon of acid mine drainage.watch T2 Trainspotting 2017 film now

The Yankee Doodle Tailings Pond, part of the active Montana Resources mine that borders the Berkeley Pit, in 2008. Photo by Justin Ringsak.

The Yankee Doodle Tailings Pond, part of the active Montana Resources mine that borders the Berkeley Pit, in 2008.

Tailings particles settle out on the south portion of the ponds. Snowmelt runoff from upper drainages also mixes with the water at the north end of the pond. These factors result in clear water with an alkaline (or non-acidic) pH and very low concentrations of dissolved metals at the north end of the pond.

When mining operations were suspended from 2000 through 2003, water was no longer pumped to the Yankee Doodle site, and the tailings deposited there began to dry out. In response to concerns from the community over dust clouds blowing in the vicinity of the tailings pond, Montana Resources spread about 1.5 million tons of rock, approximately 18 inches deep, over about 506 aces at the tailings impoundment site to keep the dust down. Since the mine reopened, the tailings deposit has remained wet, resulting in no further instances of tailings-dust clouds on Butte’s northern horizon.

The Horseshoe Bend Water Treatment Plant, completed in 2003, captures surface water to slow the rate of fill of the Berkeley Pit lake. In the future, the plant will capture and treat water to prevent Pit water from rising further. Photo by Justin Ringsak.

Water treatment plant working as expected

The Horseshoe Bend Water Treatment Plant, completed in 2003, captures surface water to slow the rate of fill of the Berkeley Pit lake. In the future, the plant will capture and treat water to prevent Pit water from rising further. Photo by Justin Ringsak.
The Horseshoe Bend Water Treatment Plant, completed in 2003, captures surface water to slow the rate of fill of the Berkeley Pit lake. In the future, the plant will capture and treat water to prevent Pit water from rising further.

Looking northeast from the Berkeley Pit viewing stand, visitors can see one of the most important components in the future management of the Pit: the Horseshoe Bend Water Treatment Plant. Sitting on four acres near the former McQueen neighborhood, about 600 feet east of the Berkeley Pit, the treatment plant was constructed in 2002-2003. It sits on native land that is very stable, and the plant was built to withstand the maximum probable earthquake.

The facility was designed to treat up to seven million gallons per day, or about 5,000 gallons of water per minute. The facility cost approximately $18 million to build, and, depending on how much water is treated, operating expenses run about $2 million per year.

Once the Berkeley Pit water comes online, which is projected to happen in 2023, annual operation and maintenance costs could be as high as $4.5 million. Under the terms of the 2002 Consent Decree negotiated with the government, BP-ARCO and Montana Resources have agreed to provide financial assurances to pay operation and maintenance expenses in perpetuity. The two companies also paid all construction costs for the facility.

The actual construction of the treatment plant was a massive undertaking. It is estimated that workers put in 125,000 hours of total labor, and the facility also required more than 4,500 cubic yards of concrete.

The general construction contractor and subcontractors were all from Montana, with several from Butte, and, during the course of construction, they reported no safety incidents of any kind.

As per the schedule listed in the 1994 EPA Record of Decision and included in the 2002 Consent Decree, based upon current water level projections, a review of the Horseshoe Bend Water Treatment Plant design and operation would begin in 2019. Any necessary upgrades would have to be completed by 2021, two years before Pit water itself is currently projected to be pumped and treated in 2023.

In November, 2007, a performance review of the Horseshoe Bend plant was completed by Montana Resources, ARCO, and North American Water Systems, with cooperation from the Montana Bureau of Mines & Geology, the Department of Environmental Quality, and the EPA.

The performance test was undertaken to ensure that the treatment system is capable of meeting the water quality standards set in the Consent Decree for the site. For this test, only water from the Horseshoe Bend drainage was treated, as water from the Pit is not yet required to be pumped and treated at the plant.

The test began on November 18, 2007, and continued for 72 hours. All of the water quality standards for contaminants of concern were met. Additional adjustments still need to be made to address pH. For this test, the pH was kept at a high (basic or alkaline) level in order to effectively remove contaminants of concern and meet water quality standards.

The optimization of the plant in the future may result in a lower pH. Additionally, methods of adjusting the pH prior to discharge to Silver Bow Creek have been evaluated conceptually. Any method of adjusting the pH will be formally evaluated, if necessary, before any water from the plant is discharged to Silver Bow Creek.