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Public input sought on proposed bentonite mine 2 miles from Keyhole State Park

GILLETTE, Wyo. — Public input will be sought later this month regarding a mining permit requesting permission to mine bentonite just south of Keyhole State Park for the next 20 years starting in October, according to the Wyoming Division of Environmental Quality.

The permit, submitted by Casper mining company Black Hills Bentonite, requests clearance for the “Keyhole State Project,” a proposed bentonite mining operation 2 miles southeast of Pine Haven and 15 miles northwest of Upton, per DEQ.

As of Aug. 23, the project is scheduled to begin in October 2022 and will continue until 2042.

A public listening session has been scheduled for Aug. 31 at the Pine Haven Community Center from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., where members of the public can express concerns or provide comments relating to the mining permit to DEQ staff.

Bentonite, referred to as the “Clay of a Thousand Uses” or “Miracle Mud,” is used in drilling fluids, iron ore pelletizing, and as an absorbent for products like pet litter, among other things, per the Wyoming Mining Association.

Producing more than four million tons each year, Wyoming is the world leader in bentonite production with 70 percent of the world’s known bentonite deposits located within the Cowboy State’s borders, according to WMA.

There are three major economic geologic areas in the state: the Clay Spur area near Upton and Newcastle, the Colony Area in northeastern Wyoming, and another area along the east and west flanks of the Big Horn Mountains, WMA says.

The clay is surface mined, WMA says, through back-casting where reclamation is done by filling in the mining pits with soils from subsequent pits while the mine is in production.

Bentonite mining employed 771 people in Wyoming in 2019, per WMA.