Native Sun News: Mine proposed near sacred site in Black Hills

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman ,Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Pe' Sla is a sacred Lakota site situated in the heart of Paha Sapa, or the Black Hills. Photo from

Proposed mine near Pe Sla will respect Indian culture
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

BELLE FOURCHE –– In reopening an abandoned silica-sand mine in the Black Hills National Forest, claim owners say they will strive to respect the Native American sacred and cultural legacy of the surrounding area, avoid disrupting religious or recreational activities, and protect water sources from contamination.

“The Black Hills are considered sacred to Native Americans, so we want to be sensitive to those issues,” President and CEO Patric Galvin told the Native Sun News on Feb. 17. “We want to be inclusive and make sure we are acting as a good community neighbor,” he said.

His brother and Chief Operating Officer Chris Galvin attended a Feb. 11 Conference on Community Impacts of Energy Development held in Belle Fourche, to learn about local concerns, he said.

Their Denver-based company, South Dakota Proppants LLC, is about to begin a permitting process aimed at reopening the 60-year-old underground quarry in order to extract, process and supply frac sand to the oil shale industry in Nebraska, Wyoming, and North Dakota.

“We’re not too worried about oil prices because our permitting is probably going to take about two years,” he said.

Drooping petroleum portfolios have alarmed many in the oil business during recent months, but analysts anticipate a rebound.

“Quick declines in oil prices are causing private investors to be skeptical of just when the rebound will happen. No one really knows,” South Dakota Oil and Gas Association Executive Director Adam Martin said at the energy development conference.

South Dakota Proppants expects to start drilling in the summer of 2015 to verify its initial feasibility findings that the mine can produce enough of the high quality sand required for hydrological fracturing, or fracking, Galvin said. The company is taking bids in the process of selecting a drilling team right now.

Galvin said the mining operation would not impact Pe Sla, or Old Baldy, which is “The Heart of All That Is,” according to the oral history of the Oceti Sakowin, or Great Sioux Nation.

The mine site is located in western Pennington County, South Dakota, near the junction of Ditch Creek Rd. and Forest Service Rd. 291, about seven miles south of Pe Sla.

Old Baldy traditionally has been a gathering place for the Lakota Wiping of the Tears ceremony. The rite is performed there in the spring in the interest of rejuvenating the Oyate and Maka Ina (Earth).

For more than 130 years, all or part of Pe Sla has been in the hands of the Reynold’s family, who acquired it when the federal government let non-Indians into the Black Hills in violation of the 1851 and 1868 Ft. Laramie treaties, which had guaranteed that the Oceti Sakowin and other tribes could keep the homelands that were shown on the map as Lakota Territory.

Until the family had to sell the land, the Reynolds collaborated with the Borderlands Education & Spiritual Center to assist the Lakota in preserving Pe Sla. The founding director of the center, Rev. Linda Kramer, is an adopted Sicangu Lakota, or Rosebud Sioux.

To keep the Reynolds Prairie from being auctioned to outside developers, representatives of the Seven Council Fires of the Oceti Sakowin brokered a $9-million purchase of the high mountain meadow in 2012.

The federal government has recognized the treaty violations, offering monetary compensation, and the tribes repeatedly have refused the money, insisting on a return of the land. However, they stated in making the purchase: “We are not waiting for the United States to deal with this justly on the Black Hills rights.”

The tribes will “work together to form the Oceti Sakowin Sacred Land Protection Commission to protect Pe Sla,” they stated. “We will preserve the sacred site for traditional and cultural ceremonies and keep it in a pristine state for our future generations.”

Galvin said Pe Sla wouldn’t be impacted by the proposed operation, because the mining would occur below the earth’s surface, out of the line of sight of the ceremonial grounds, and its haul route would be in the opposite direction.

The mining would be carried out by the room-and-pillar method, in which miner’s tunnel into a hillside, cutting rooms into the rock and leaving columns of it untouched to support the mine roof as they remove the ore.

The quarry mouth openings are large but not in view of Ditch Creek Campground or people fishing, because it’s over the hills from the stream and Ditch Creek Road, he said.

The preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement for the project will take into consideration a water source for the mine and shipping routes, as well as cultural resources, all as required by law, he noted.

He said that silica mining does not entail the use of toxic cyanide, customary in metal mining, nor does it require such massive volumes of water or changing the water’s chemical composition as is necessary for in-situ uranium mining.

Typically, water is used to wash the sand as it is broken down from the conglomerate in which it is found. The water captures dust, which settles into mud. That, in turn, is back filled into the mine, and the water is reused.

About 3 percent of the water remains in the moist sand product until it is evaporated in a drying process. The washing and dewatering could occur at the mine site and elsewhere, for example in Newcastle or Custer, where crushing plants have previously been established.

Highway 16, which runs through Custer and Newcastle, could be accessed from the mine site by improving 6-Mile Road to mitigate dust and using it to truck the sandstone ore west to Forest Road 117, where it then could be moved south to the paved route.

Trucking it east in the direction of Hill City is not under consideration due to the tourist economy in that part of the Black Hills, which is dependent on the safety and access of cars and motorcycles operated by visitors to landmark Mount Rushmore and the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Galvin recognized.

Hill City is about 20 miles east of the 1,700-acre mine site.

Residents could expect some 320 long-term jobs at the mine, during its projected life span of 70 years, Galvin said. “It’ll be a good long term project for the whole area, as long as you do it right,” he said.

South Dakota Proppants LLC has had “significant discussions” and received indications of interest from potential clients in Wyoming and Nebraska, Galvin said.

The Galvins want to reopen the mine because of its proximity to the fracking in the Niobrara shale oil fields of Colorado and Nebraska, as well as the Bakken Play in North Dakota, and the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. All are within a 300-mile radius.

“You can find frac sands, certainly easier, in Wisconsin than in South Dakota,” he said, “but there’s an advantage, because of the closeness to oilfields. It saves air pollution and energy.”

Martin said the business is an example of how entrepreneurs can cash in on the oil booms surrounding the Black Hills. “It is the only frac sand mine in the region that will be able to deliver proppants directly to the well site, thus significantly reducing proppant costs,” he noted.

South Dakota State University Extension Community Development Field Specialist Paul Thares said approval of the project “would be an economic boon for this part of the state.”

Coordinator of the Belle Fourche conference, Thares added, “The owners are also sensitive to the health, human and environmental aspect of their proposed mining operation. They will be using the latest technologies available to handle air and water quality issues.

The dust from silica sand is linked to lung disease in miners with inadequate safety gear. However the substance has multiple uses in addition to fracking.

It is also in demand for solar panels, golf courses, sand boxes, water filtration, glass manufacture, smartphones, toilets, industrial casting, sand blasting, and concrete production.

Most silica sand in the Black Hills is not of the quality needed for fracking, according to Galvin and other analysts. “It’s a very special, very unique deposit that we’re on,” he said.

Considering that Northern White frac sand is rated as highest quality and Texas Brown is lower, the deposit is about midway between, on a par with Ottawa White, he said.

The American Petroleum Institute sets specifications for frac sand quality, taking into account the properties of roundness, crush value, acid solubility, turbidity, and silicon dioxide content.

(Contact Talli Nauman at

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