The owner of two precious metals mines in south-central Montana is halting work on an expansion project and laying off about 100 workers due to the sharp decline in the price of palladium over the past year, it was announced Thursday representatives of the mine.
Sibanye-Stillwater announced layoffs Wednesday at the United States’ only platinum and palladium mines near Nye, Mont., and other Sibanye-owned facilities in Montana, including a recycling operation. Twenty other jobs have remained vacant since October, officials said.
Another 187 contract workers, or around 67% of the mine’s contract workers, will also be affected. Some contracted work has been phased out over the past two months, said Heather McDowell, vice president of Sibanye-Stillwater.
The restructuring is not expected to have a significant impact on current mining or recycling production, but it will reduce costs, the company said.
Palladium prices have since fallen from a peak of around $3,000 per ounce in March 2022 to around $1,000 per ounce today. Platinum prices have also fallen, but not as dramatically.
The company can still make money working on the west side of the Stillwater mine in Nye with current palladium prices, but expanding the east side is not profitable at this time, McDowell said.
Platinum is used in jewelry and palladium in catalytic converters, which control automobile emissions.
South Africa-based Sibanye purchased the Stillwater mines in 2017 for $2.2 billion. The mines of Montana supported the company over the next few years, at a time when it was plagued by strikes and a series of worker deaths at its gold mines in South Africa.
Over the next few years, as platinum and palladium prices rose, Stillwater sought to expand into new areas and created about 600 new jobs at its mines, according to Labor Department 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 faced opposition from environmental groups who want safeguards to prevent accidental and catastrophic release of mining waste into nearby waterways.
McDowell said there are 38 jobs available 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, Department of Labor and Industry and unions across the state are working to help those who have been laid off file for unemployment benefits and find a new job. employment, AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Jason Small said Thursday.
The Sibanye-Stillwater mine was the site of a death of a miner under contract on October 13. Noah Dinger of Post Falls, Idaho, died when he became trapped in a mine’s rotating shaft that screws metal panels onto the stone walls of an underground area to prevent rocks from falling during future mining, officials said.
Associated Press writer Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, contributed to this report.