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This photo from July 2013 shows the rim of the Berkeley Pit were a slough deposited surface material into the Pit lake in Feb. 2013. Photo by Fritz Daily.

Snow Geese Update

• It is estimated that many thousands of migrating snow geese stopped in the Berkeley Pit the week of November 28, 2016. The number of migrating geese that passed through this area and landed in the Berkeley Pit is unprecedented. Most geese left the pit on Tuesday November 29, 2016 and continued their migration south.
• Unfortunately, some geese remained in the pit for nearly a week or longer, and it is estimated that several thousand of those snow geese perished in the Berkeley Pit.
• Montana Resources (MR) and Atlantic Richfield Company (AR) operate a program under the direction of US EPA and the State of Montana to deter waterfowl from landing in the pit, and to encourage any waterfowl in the pit to leave as soon as possible after resting. Over the course of the last two decades, the average number of birds observed on the Berkeley Pit over an entire year is approximately 4,000 or less, and almost all of those birds leave the pit after a short rest.
• On November 28, 2016, many more birds landed in the pit in one day than are normally seen over an entire year. MR and AR personnel attempted to convince the waterfowl to stay away from or leave the pit, using bird wailers, fireworks, and other conventional methods along with the addition of new technologies including drones. Staff diligence and dedication working day and night saved thousands of birds.
• MR and AR are coordinating with federal and state agencies, as well as waterfowl experts, to understand this unprecedented arrival of waterfowl in the Butte and why the waterfowl selected the Berkeley Pit for resting.
• MR and AR will work closely with federal and state regulators, and waterfowl experts to identify and evaluate potential new methods to strengthen and improve the waterfowl mitigation program. These may include such items as additional on-the-water and aerial remote control drone technologies, laser technology remote controlled water craft, and sonic devices.
• There is a program to provide veterinary care and assistance to sick geese. If members of the public in the Butte or Dillon areas spot a sick or dead goose, they are asked to please contact Montana Resources at 496-3233 or Butte-Silver Bow Animal Control at 406-497-6527.
• Montana, Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) is advising hunters to wait to consume snow geese harvested after November 28 in the Butte and Dillon area. Instead, FWP recommends that hunters process and freeze birds at this time and do not eat them until the department has conducted tests to determine how or if this event has affected the edible portions of the birds.

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.

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.