Gold mining proposal near Yellowstone wins regulatory approval

A Canada company’s controversial bid to prospect for gold near Yellowstone National Park has won approval from Montana regulators despite local opposition.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality granted Vancouver-based Lucky Minerals a license Wednesday to drill exploration holes for gold and other metals in the Absaroka Mountains, 12 miles east of the town of Emigrant and approximately 20 miles northeast of Yellowstone.

“We took a hard look at the comments received and the issues identified,” the agency’s director, Tom Livers, said. “Ultimately, the company has agreed to mitigations beyond what is required in statute.”

Nearly 4,000 individuals, organizations and agencies submitted comments with many opposed to Lucky Mines' application, according to Mining.com.

Opponents fear the mining operation could harm the local tourism industry and pollute the nearby Yellowstone River, according to the news outlet.

Legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., would bar future mining claims on 30,000 acres of public lands outside Yellowstone. The Obama administration imposed a two-year ban on those lands last November.

Lucky Minerals’ proposal is on private land, but officials say it might not be economically viable without mining on adjacent public lands.

A representative of conservation group Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition told NBC Montana the group worries the project may one day expand onto public land.

A Lucky Mines vice president, Shaun Dykes, told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that there’s more work to do before the company begins drilling, but he’s happy they’ve gotten past this first step.

“That’s one hurdle done,” he told the paper.

Lucky Mines will be required to post a cash bond before it can begin drilling.

The gulch where Lucky Mines wants to drill was mined in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the paper reported. Companies have been back sporadically in the past few decades.

Lucky Mines believes it will be successful in finding gold because it plans to drill deeper than other companies have, the paper reported.

The price of gold was about $1,267 per ounce the other day.  Gold set a record of around $1,900 an ounce in 2011.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.