LOCAL NEWS

Nodding to the past, looking to the future. Utah’s Kennecott again mining copper underground

Sep 28, 2022, 6:09 AM | Updated: Nov 18, 2022, 11:15 pm
(Chopper 5/KSL TV)...
(Chopper 5/KSL TV)
(Chopper 5/KSL TV)

BINGHAM CANYON, Utah — The Kennecott Copper Mine has been a fixture of the Salt Lake Valley for over 100 years and on Tuesday, the mine announced that it will be moving mining operations underground in its next step to extract copper.

The mine — which began operations in 1906 — started as an underground copper mine before ceasing with that method and becoming iconic for its claim as the largest man-made excavation and deepest open-pit mine in the world.

“We’re innovating and we’re closer to writing the next chapter within Kennecott’s history,” said Nate Foster, interim managing director at Rio Tinto Kennecott.

Rio Tinto will be investing $55 million in development capital in a section of its underground copper deposit known as the lower commercial skarns.

“This has the potential to deliver over 30,000 tons of high-quality copper over the next five years,” Foster said.

That amount of copper is enough to provide electricity to over 1.2 million U.S. homes.

Foster also noted that nearly 100% of the materials created and produced at Kennecott stay within North America.

The newest mining endeavor at Kennecott is unique in the sense that it will be using electric vehicle technology on a trial basis to determine the feasibility of using electric vehicles in mining operations.

To do so, Kennecott is partnering with Sandvik, a mining technology company that produces electric mining equipment.

“These vehicles are safer, cleaner, more efficient and less noisy than traditional vehicles used underground,” Foster said.

Foster said this could “set the tone” for Rio Tinto’s future mining projects not just in the Beehive State, but across the globe.

Utah Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson was on hand for Tuesday’s announcement and said that she and Gov. Spencer Cox are “committed to boosting modern-day mining to build infrastructure and technology for the next generation.”

She added that by 2040, the energy sector’s demand for minerals could grow by six times, while the demand for minerals that power electric vehicle batteries could grow by 40 times.

“Rio Tinto Kennecott’s claims hold around 20 million tons of developable mineral resources (and) a successful trial could expand this technology throughout Rio Tinto’s global operations,” Henderson said. “Investments in mining are investments in Utah. They’re investments in Utahns. They’re investments in America.”

Rio Tinto Kennecott directly employs over 2,000 people while indirectly contributing to thousands more jobs throughout the state.

Additionally, the move to underground mining will allow Kennecott to continue mining from the Bingham Copper Mine without increasing the mine’s footprint.

Though it won’t increase the visible size of the mine, underground mining does carry some environmental concerns — specifically related to water, said Carl Fisher, executive director of the environmental group Save Our Canyons.

Fisher said that subterranean water systems could be impacted.

“Not a lot is known about where these water systems go, but sometimes manifest themselves as springs. I suspect folks that live in the vicinity of Kennecott could see their wells dry up as underground mining can totally alter the flow of water, this could also compound aquifers that rest underneath the Salt Lake (and possibly even the Tooele) Valley,” Fisher said in an email.

He also said that underground mining causes dust emissions, something that is “killing” the snowpack.

“Dust on snow leads to a faster rate of melt and faster evapotranspiration. This means our snowpack, which in the greater Salt Lake region is our water reservoir, isn’t lasting as long through the summer months as it used to be and the evapotranspiration in many instances means less water in the Great Salt Lake watershed,” Fisher said.

Joe Thomas, assistant director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, said that the department’s top concern is improving air quality — something he said Kennecott can help with.

“For the last few years, many of the reductions in emissions in the Wasatch Front came from industry,” Thomas said.

From 1995, half of the pollution in the area was reduced by industry initiatives in Utah, Thomas said.

He said that while the state has been enjoying a reduction in its emissions output, the rapidly growing nature of the state will eventually lead to an increase in emissions.

“Light-duty, heavy-duty vehicles (and) off-road equipment is particularly a big source of pollution,” Thomas said. “We know that industry innovation can make a significant positive impact in our air quality and environment. By making this investment in modern technology to pilot zero-emissions mining equipment in the operation, Rio Tinto Kennecott is raising the bar, setting new standards for industry across the state.”

Thomas said that the electrification of vehicles and mining equipment is an exciting time for his department — a position echoed by Foster.

“It’s an exciting day for many reasons. We are confident these innovations will go down as a game-changer in the long and rich history here at Kennecott,” Foster said.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Local News

The family with Baby Charlie in a living room....
Andrew Adams

Couple gives thanks to EMT who delivered baby unexpectedly-early

Mikaella and Preston Clark were hoping to make it to Utah Valley Hospital on Aug. 17 to give birth via VBAC to Charlie, when it appeared Charlie didn’t want to wait.
13 hours ago
A man already accused of aggravated human trafficking is now charged with trying to tamper with wit...
Logan Stefanich, KSL.com

2 men arrested for allegedly enticing minors online and by text

Two men were arrested Wednesday for allegedly enticing minors by internet or text, according to law enforcement.
13 hours ago
The Jeep is upside down in the left lane on the freeway....
Brooke Williams

Man killed in rollover crash on I-15 in Draper

A Jeep lost control and rolled over on the freeway.
13 hours ago
...
Ashley Moser

Local organization helps single parents put gifts under the Christmas tree

With prices on the rise on almost everything, providing Christmas gifts is proving difficult for many families, especially for single parent households. One Utah organization is jumping in to help.
2 days ago
(Roy City Police Department)...
Madison Swenson

Man in custody after crashing into Roy building, trying to get into another car

A man was taken into custody Friday after crashing into the back of a car, then into a building in Roy, before attempting to get into another car.
2 days ago
(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)...
Madison Swenson

First Presidency of the Church releases 2022 Christmas message

The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has released a Christmas message.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 reasons you may want to consider apartment life over owning a home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Take this quiz before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Nodding to the past, looking to the future. Utah’s Kennecott again mining copper underground