ROCHFORD, S.D. (AP) — A Canadian company exploring for gold in western south Dakota has drilled and capped its first hole despite protests and a court challenge.

Mineral Mountain Resources is conducting the drilling on privately owned land in a secluded portion of the Black Hills. The drilling of the first hole began Feb. 13 and was completed this week, the Rapid City Journal reported.

After completing the first hole, workers filled it with a mixture of water and bentonite and capped it with concrete, while an inspector from the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources monitored.

Eight more holes are planned for the company's first phase of drilling, which is expected to take about six weeks. The drill creates cylinders of rock known as core samples, which will eventually be hauled to a lab in Nevada for analysis. The analysis will be used to decide whether and where more drilling will be conducted within the permitted area.

The drilling comes after three members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe filed a court appeal last month against the project. The appeal alleged that the Canadian company lacked a certificate of authority required for foreign corporations to do business in South Dakota when it obtained its state drilling permit. State regulators allowed the company to transfer the permit to an affiliate company of the same name in South Dakota, but the appeal said that the transfer was illegal because the original permit was never valid.

Mineral Mountain has not filed a legal response to the appeal.

A group called Defend the Sacred Black Hills also recently conducted a protest walk along roads and trails in the project area.

"They have every right to protest," said Kevin Leonard, drilling project manager. "It's a free country."

Mineral Mountain has also filed an operating plan with the Black Hills National Forest to conduct additional exploratory drilling on public land in the Rochford area. A review by the Forest Service is still pending.


Information from: Rapid City Journal,