ROCHFORD, S.D. (AP) — A Canadian company has begun exploratory drilling for gold in western South Dakota.

Mineral Mountains Resources announced Monday that it began drilling near Rochford earlier this month, the Rapid City Journal reported. The company plans to drill at least 12 holes ranging in diameter from 2 to 4 inches (51 to 102 millimeters) and in depth from about 1,000 to 1,300 feet (305 to 396 meters). Mineral Mountains also has requested drilling sites in the Black Hills National Forest, which is under review by the U.S. Forest Service.

The project has been opposed by neighboring landowners, environmentalists and residents who fear the negative impacts of a large-scale gold mine.

"Everybody along Rapid Creek and Rapid City that drinks water should be concerned about this potential disaster," wrote Rapid City resident George Kruse, in a letter circulated by a group called Save Rochford & Rapid Creek From Gold Mining.

Some Native American tribes have called the drilling a desecration of the Black Hills, which are spiritually significant to them. Native Americans have also expressed concern over the project's proximity to Pe Sla, a large mountain meadow about 7 miles (11 kilometers) west of the drilling location.

Mineral Mountain received negative publicity in 2012 while exploring for gold in the mountains of Keystone, another historical Black Hills mining community. Drilling water and bentonite, a subtance used to fill drill holes, leaked into Battle Creek. South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources officials said the milky substance in the creek wasn't harmful to people or fish.

For this project, Mineral Mountain is only exploring for gold, rather than mining. The drilling is being conducted on privately owned land, which is covered by a state-approved exploration notice.

The company paid $250 for an exploratory permit and must maintain a $20,000 bond with the state government.


Information from: Rapid City Journal,