The U-S Forest Service has completed the final environmental assessment on a Minnesota company request to do exploratory drilling for gold on federal land near Pactola Reservoir in the Black Hills National Forest and and given preliminary approval for it to move forward.
The draft decision from Mystic District Ranger Jim Gubbels allows F3 Gold to have 47 drilling pads on more than 3 acres near Jenny Gulch, but with numerous restrictions to protect cultural sites, water, and other natural resources.
Those provisions include several changes to F3’s plan of operations such as moving some drill pads to protect water, wildlife, and potential cultural and archaeological sites.
The company will also be required to plug its drilling holes and return all disturbed areas to natural-looking conditions.
The draft decision is subject to a 45-day objection period. The Forest Service will consider any objections before issuing a final decision.
F3 Gold has been seeking approval for the drilling project for several years and Vice President Brian Lentz says such an “exhaustive” multi-year” review process isn’t typical for a small-scale project, so the company is pleased to finally be getting its permit.
Lilias Jarding of the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance, a leading opponent to the project, says the draft decision “is not unexpected, but is still disappointing.”
Jarding worries that exploratory drilling could eventually lead to a gold mine that could pollute Pactola Reservoir, a popular recreational destination and storage reservoir for several water systems, which include Rapid City.
Gold has been mined in the Black Hills since the 1870s and the Homestake Mine near Lead was the largest and deepest gold mine in North America before it closed in 2002. The mine is now one of the deepest underground laboratories in the world.