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Demand for copper expected to increase 'exponentially' as Butte mines prepare to meet supply needs

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Posted at 8:06 AM, Apr 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-24 10:06:26-04

BUTTE - Here’s a twist for you: the copper mining industry, which did devastating environmental damage to Butte, could now be essential to the green industry in improving the environment.

“Copper is essential to combating climate change. We’re mining the solution to climate change right here in Butte America,” said Mark Thompson with Montana Resources in Butte.

Electric cars, wind energy, and solar panels require large amounts of copper wiring, creating a demand for what is sometimes called red gold. Montana Resources reports copper selling for more than $4 a pound in the past few years and prices are expected to rise.

“What we’re seeing in the current markets is the projected supply of copper going down and the demand increasing exponentially,” said Thompson.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that by 2031 electrification is expected to increase annual demand for copper to 40.3 million tons, but the forecasted output by then is estimated at just 33.1 tons, a shortfall of 7.2 million tons.

Montana Resources expects large mines around the world will quickly deplete their resources and smaller mines will have to make up the slack.

“Mines like Black Butte Copper and White Sulfur are going to become what’s going to supply copper in the future,” he said.

Butte’s early mining industry was so polluted it turned the city into the largest Superfund site in the country. A consent decree was recently signed, and a major cleanup is underway, and Montana Resources is part of that remediation process.

“You can’t hold what we do today accountable to what was done in the past, we are among the highest regulated industry in the country,” said Thompson.

Butte will benefit from increased copper prices since Montana Resources pays as much as $10 million annually in taxes to the city.