Montana miner backs off expansion plans, lays off 100 due to lower palladium prices

Nov 30, 2023, 5:12 PM

The owner of two precious metals mines in south-central Montana is stopping work on an expansion project and laying off about 100 workers because the price of palladium fell sharply in the past year, mine representatives said Thursday.

Sibanye-Stillwater announced the layoffs Wednesday at the only platinum and palladium mines in the United States, near Nye, Montana, and other Sibanye-owned facilities in Montana, including a recycling operation. Another 20 jobs have gone unfilled since October, officials said.

Another 187 contract workers — about 67% of the mining contract workers at the mine — will also be affected. Some contract work has been phased out over the past couple of months, said Heather McDowell, a vice president at Sibanye-Stillwater.

The restructuring is not expected to significantly impact current mine production or recycling production, but will reduce costs, the company said.

Palladium prices have since fallen from a peak of about $3,000 an ounce in March 2022 to about $1,000 per ounce now. Platinum prices also have fallen, but not as dramatically.

The company can still make money working on the west side of the Stillwater mine at Nye with the current palladium prices, but the expansion on the east side is not cost effective right now, McDowell said.

Platinum is used in jewelry and palladium is used in catalytic converters, which control automobile emissions.

South Africa-based Sibanye bought the Stillwater mines in 2017 for $2.2 billion. The Montana mines buoyed the company in subsequent years at a time when it was beset by strikes and a spate of worker deaths at its South Africa gold mines.

Over the next several years as platinum and palladium prices rose, Stillwater sought to expand into new areas and added roughly 600 new jobs at its mines, according to Department of Labor data.

On Tuesday, the Forest Service gave preliminary approval to an expansion of the company’s East Boulder Mine that will extend its life by about a dozen years. The proposal has been opposed by environmental groups that want safeguards to prevent a catastrophic accidental release of mining waste into nearby waterways.

McDowell said there are 38 jobs open at the East Boulder Mine and the company hopes some Stillwater workers who were laid off will apply for those positions. It’s about a two-hour drive from the Stillwater Mine to the East Boulder Mine, she said.

The Montana AFL-CIO, the Department of Labor and Industry and unions across the state are working to help those who were laid off to file claims for unemployment benefits and to find new work, AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Jason Small said Thursday.

The Sibanye-Stillwater Mine was the site of a contract miner’s death on Oct. 13. Noah Dinger of Post Falls, Idaho, died when he got caught in the rotating shaft of a mine that bolts wire panels onto the stone walls of an underground area to prevent rock from falling during future mining, officials said.


Associated Press writer Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, contributed to this report.

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Montana miner backs off expansion plans, lays off 100 due to lower palladium prices