Officials for the Wyoming-headquartered miner said that work will begin the week of June 9 to drill approximately 100 holes, each 6 in. in diameter, to complete and build upon core hole samples previously collected by other mining companies.

CPE’s Big Metal Coal and the Crow Tribe signed option and exploration agreements January 24, 2013, and those agreements were approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) on June 14 of last year.

Under the deal’s terms, Cloud Peak has exclusive options to lease and develop Northern Powder River Basin coal on the Crow Indian Reservation in southeast Montana, near its Spring Creek mine and Youngs Creek Mining Co. and CX Ranch properties.

“Prior to any exercise of the options, one of the next steps in the Big Metal Project is exploration drilling to confirm coal quantity and quality,” said Todd Myers, Cloud Peak Energy senior vice president of business development. “Since signing our agreements…Cloud Peak Energy has been working with Tribal regulators, BIA, the federal Bureau of Land Management, Crow landowners and non-Crow landowners, to obtain approvals, permits and land access agreements to begin exploratory drilling.”

Required BIA approval of the exploration plan was given in April; CPE was waiting for summer weather to commence the confirmatory drilling program.

The miner has so far paid $5.25 million in option payments to the Tribe and will make additional annual payments during the remainder of the initial five-year option period; that could bring total option payments during the initial period to $10 million.

Upon any exercise and required regulatory approval of a lease or leases, and development of mining, Big Metal Coal will provide preferential hiring, training, and promotion to qualified Crow Tribal members and Indians living on or near the Crow Indian Reservation, and will make lease signing bonus, production tax, and royalty payments to the Tribe.