NewsLocal News


Sibanye-Stillwater cutting back on Montana expansion because of COVID-19 outbreak

Posted at 2:51 PM, Mar 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-23 19:11:50-04

Update 5:05 p.m. Sibanye-Stillwater clarified that no union employees will be cut, only contract workers at Blitz. Also, production and development work at Blitz will continue, but surface and project work is being idled.

These clarifications have been updated in this story.

The ripple effect from the coronavirus outbreak is now being felt at the Stillwater Mine at Nye.

Sibanye-Stillwater officials announced Monday, a significant reduction in the number of people at its U.S. operations, which are all in Montana.

The temporary cuts come as the company adopts new measures to contain and restrict the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Specifically for Sibanye operations in Montana, this means a halt to all contractor work on its Blitz project that the company started in 2017. The Blitz project was slated to be up to full capacity in 2022.

The company says while surface and project work on the $250 million Blitz project is idled, it hopes to maintain current production from both its Stillwater and East Boulder mines. Production and development work will continue. The company could not provide an estimate on how many jobs at its Montana operation would be impacted.

No union workers will be affected, only contract workers, according to the company.

"We are making sure that these short-term disruptions do not impact longer-term business plans," said James Wellsted, head of investor relations. "We are ensuring we are well-positioned to safely and efficiently ramp-up operations in a timely manner once the worst of this global pandemic passes."

Last year, Stillwater officials had estimated that the Blitz project could boost employment in Montana to up to 2,000 jobs. The company also operates the East Boulder mine near Big Timber and a Columbus recycling operation.

Wellsted said that Sibanye's platinum group metals (PGMs) are defined as a “critical infrastructure industry” by the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency. The Montana mines primarily produce platinum and palladium.

PGMs are essential components of many chemical, medical and biochemical applications, including many drugs used to treat a wide range of cancers. In addition, PGMs are also used in pacemakers, catheters, and in self-rescuer masks used by first responders.

Sibanye-Stillwater is the only primary producer of platinum and palladium in North America.

Sibanye also announced a number of safety precautions to protect its employees. Those steps include prohibiting face-to-face contact with external parties, restricting site access to employees, and providing soap and disinfectants to all workers. Some personnel who are not required on site, are working remotely.

The company said it has no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at its operations.

Based in South Africa, Sibnaye-Stillwater is the world’s biggest producer of platinum, and one of the 10 largest gold producers in the world.