Montana Minerals Industry
Minerals Industry Report for Montana
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In 2007, Montana’s nonfuel raw mineral production was valued at $1.36 billion, based upon annual U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) data. This was an increase of $290 million, or about 27%, from the value of 2006, which in turn was up $223 million, or more than 26%, from that of 2005. The State rose in rank to 17th from 21st among the 50 States in nonfuel raw mineral production value and accounted for about 2% of the U.S. total. Yet, per capita, the State ranked 5th in the Nation in the value of its nonfuel mineral production; with a population of about 958,000, the value of production was more than $1,420 per capita.
Metallic minerals accounted for nearly 79% of Montana’s total nonfuel mineral production value in 2007. Copper, molybdenum concentrates, platinum, gold, and palladium were, in descending order of value, the State’s leading nonfuel minerals, followed by construction sand and gravel, cement (portland and masonry), zinc, and silver, the combined total of which accounted for more than 94% of the State’s total nonfuel mineral production value. In 2007, nearly all of the State’s nonfuel mineral commodities rose in value. Increases in the values of gold, molybdenum, zinc, and construction sand and gravel (descending order of change) led Montana’s increase in value for the year, having a combined increase of more than $200 million for the three metal mineral commodities. Construction sand and gravel was next with an increase of nearly $39 million. To follow were lead, copper, and silver, the combined increase of which was nearly $45 million. Smaller yet signifi cant increases also took place (in descending order) in the values of industrial garnet, dimension stone (up by $6.7 million), portland cement, and platinum. The unit values of all of these mineral commodities showed modest to substantial increases, except for that of construction sand and gravel, which was down somewhat. Decreases took place in the values of crushed stone (down by slightly more than $12 million), palladium, and bentonite clay (table 1).
In 2007, Montana continued to be the only State to have primary palladium and platinum mine production. The State also continued to be fi rst in the quantity of talc produced, second in bentonite clay, and fifth in copper, molybdenum concentrates, gold, and silver (descending order of value). Montana rose in rank to first from third of three industrial garnet-producing States, to fourth from fifth in the production of lead, to seventh from eighth in gemstones (gemstones based upon value), was sixth in cadmium production (as a byproduct in zinc concentrates), and it remained a producer of significant quantities of construction sand and gravel. Significant increases took place in the production of most of the mineral commodities that led to the State’s increase in value, particularly in those of lead, zinc, and gold, whereas a relatively small increase took place in the production of copper, and palladium production was down by more than 10%. Even though Montana’s zinc production rose by more than 700% in 2007 from that of 2006, the State decreased to sixth from fifth in rank because of similarly large increases by several other producing States.
During 2007 mining operations in Montana continued the recent trend of steady growth. Some examples included two existing mines that were in the permitting process for expansions and one completed a prefeasibility study for an expansion. A medium-sized underground mine progressed rapidly on its way to a permit. A cement plant awaited the State’s release of the final environmental impact statement (EIS) with regard to an alternative fuel permit.
In another example, small-scale mine owners scrambled to find qualified ore to take advantage of an opportunity to sell gold ore to the Barrick Gold Corp.’s Golden Sunlight Mine, southeast of Butte. In general, the State’s mining and mineral processing operations continued to be challenged by high fuel costs, limited equipment availability, and large-diameter tire shortages that have plagued the entire industry in recent years. Also, shortages of skilled labor continued, especially for underground operations. However, the industry experienced a continuation of high mineral commodity prices and demand for products far and above anytime in the recent past.