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

The owner of two precious metals mines in south-central Montana is halting work on an expansion project and laying off about 100 employees as the price of palladium has fallen sharply over the past year, mine representatives said Thursday.

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

Another 187 contract workers – about 67% of the mine's contract workers – will also be affected. Some of the contract work has been phased out in recent months, said Heather McDowell, vice president at Sibanye-Stillwater.

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

The price of palladium has 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 at current palladium prices, but expanding on the east side is not profitable at this time, McDowell said.

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

South Africa-based Sibanye bought the Stillwater mines in 2017 for $2.2 billion. Montana mines supported the company in subsequent years, at a time when it was plagued by strikes and a wave of worker deaths in South Africa's gold mines.

In subsequent 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 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 12 years. The proposal has been opposed by environmental groups who want safeguards to prevent a catastrophic accidental discharge of mine waste into nearby waterways.

McDowell said there are 38 jobs open at the East Boulder Mine and the company hopes some laid-off Stillwater employees 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 have been laid off file unemployment benefits claims and find new work, AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Jason Small said Thursday .

The Sibanye-Stillwater mine was the site where a contract miner was killed on October 13. Noah Dinger of Post Falls, Idaho, died when he became entangled in the rotating shaft of a mine that bolts wire panels to 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.