How we serve with Montana Limestone Company

Derik Romero, operator at Montana Limestone Company near Warren, Montana.

With less than 20 employees, Montana Limestone Company is a relatively small operation that has a big impact on Basin Electric and its membership. The facility plays a direct role in keeping baseload generation facilities environmentally compliant, helping ensure members continue receiving the reliable electricity they need.

A subsidiary of Dakota Coal Company, Montana Limestone operates a limestone quarry 70 miles south of Billings, Montana. The quarry at Montana Limestone is an efficient operation that dates back many decades. Originally developed to provide limestone for use in the local sugar beet industry, today it is recognized as one of the area’s leading names in the production of chemical grade limestone.

Much of the product produced at Montana Limestone is shipped to Wyoming Lime Producers, a division of Dakota Coal Company that owns a lime kiln operation near Frannie, Wyoming. Limestone is a sedimentary rock that formed millions of years ago, and lime is produced when limestone is subjected to extreme heat, changing calcium carbonate to calcium oxide. The lime produced at Wyoming Lime Producers is a vital ingredient in removing sulfur dioxide from stack emissions at Basin Electric’s coal-based power plants and as an environmental control additive in the Bakken oil field.

Derik Romero, a Montana Limestone operator who has been with the cooperative for 10 years, says Leland Olds Station in Stanton, North Dakota, receives limestone to use in their scrubbers. This supply is vital in maintaining environmental compliance.

"We send 7-12 trains of limestone to Leland Olds Station each year for them to use. They tell us what they're anticipating, and we get them what they need," Romero says. “Each train consists of 94-100 100-ton rail cars, so they hold a lot of product. We can load seven rail cars in about an hour. It’s a good design and really efficient.”

Limestone from Montana Limestone is also an environmental control additive in the Bakken oil field and is used for other purposes, like landscaping and road base needs.

The fine grind plant is another important component of the Montana Limestone operation. Romero primarily works in the fine grind plant and says they receive limestone from the quarry and produce it down to four different sizes of ground limestone. These high-calcium, ground products are then available in bags or bulk for industrial, agricultural, and mining applications.

The fine grind plant’s production is relatively consistent year-round, but it does see a slight increase during feed season, which is October through February.

“A lot of customers buy mineral supplement, like calcium, from us to add into their livestock’s feed,” Romero says. “We offer different sizes of pebbled limestone for cattle, hogs, and chicken. The calcium aids in hardening the egg shells and breaking feed. There are so many uses for the limestone we produce.”

Being able to sell product from Montana Limestone has a positive impact on Basin Electric’s profitability and is a benefit to the membership. The cooperative would have to pay significantly more if it purchased product on the open market instead of through Montana Limestone. Annual sales from Montana Limestone's quarry and fine grind plant average about 750,000 tons.

“We always try to do everything in the most efficient, cost-effective way,” Romero says. “Regardless of what it is, I’m always keeping an eye on certain things because I don’t want to cost the membership extra money, and everyone here has that same mindset.”

There are many components to running the fine grind plant, and Romero is able to step in and help wherever he’s needed.

“What I love about my position is that I’m able to do a little of everything – general labor, cleanup, working with the railroad, working on invoices, responding to emails,” he says. “I love the challenges that come up and I love learning new things, so it’s really nice being able to bounce around.”

Romero says it’s fulfilling to be able to directly impact the membership through his role at Montana Limestone.

“Like everyone else at Basin Electric, we’re working hard to keep Montana Limestone a high-functioning facility that can be a benefit to the membership, both by making a profit and by providing an important product for the cooperative,” Romero says. “It’s rewarding coming to work here every day and knowing we’re doing something important.”