41 Bingham Canyon Mine Facts: Know More About Utah's Copper Ore

Tanya Parkhi
Feb 16, 2023 By Tanya Parkhi
Originally Published on Feb 22, 2022
Edited by Katherine Cook
Fact-checked by Amatullah Gulbargawala
Aerial view of Kennecott's Bingham Canyon Mine
Age: 3-18
Read time: 7.2 Min

Did you know that the Bingham Canyon Mine is the largest man-made excavation on Earth?

Located in Salt Lake Valley in Utah, this copper mine is more than 2.5 mi (4 km) wide and 0.75 mi (1.2 km) deep! It's no wonder that it's often called the 'Mountain of Copper'.

It is estimated that the copper operations in the Bingham Mine account for about 18% of the USA's copper! The Rio Tinto Copper Production company uses open-pit mining methods to excavate around 300,000 ton (272,000 met ton) of copper every year! To learn more about this fascinating mine and how copper processing takes place here, read on!

Whre is Bingham Canyon Mine located?

The Bingham Canyon Mine is in Utah, about 18 mi (29 km) southwest of Salt Lake City in the United States.

  • The mine is operated by Rio Tinto Kennecott, a subsidiary of the British-Australian mining company Rio Tinto.
  • The majority of workers are employed in production and support roles, but there is also a significant engineering workforce that maintains and operates complex mining equipment used during excavation processes at this site, one which covers an area larger than New York City or Washington D.C.
  • More than 19,000,000 ton (17,236.500 met ton) of copper has been produced which is more than any other mine has ever produced in history!
  • The depth of the mine ranges between 8,040-4390 ft (2.5-1.3 km) above sea level.

What is the history of the Bingham Canyon Mine?

The mining site was first discovered by two brothers named Thomas and Sanford Bingham, who were ranchers grazing their livestock 18 mi (30 km) southwest of Salt Lake City in Utah.

  • Respecting the wishes of their leader, Brigham Young, they did not commence with any mining operations on the site and left it alone, subsequently moving away from the area entirely in 1850.
  • However, since it was first discovered by them, the canyon was named after them.
  • Mining operations begun in 1863 by smaller mining companies until the area was bought out by the Utah Copper company in 1903.
  • This was backed by Kennecott's Utah Copper Corporation in 1915, and still holds a major stake in the mine as of today, under the banner of Rio Tinto Copper Corporation.
  • In the '90s, the mine became a tourist attraction where visitors could see various types of minerals such as gold which they would collect from the rocks while on site.
  • It was at its peak production period during World War II when demand increased, especially for silver which was needed to make bullets used against enemy tanks. The mine increased their output by more than four times, making it one of the most productive copper mines in the world.
  • The Bingham Canyon Mine has had a long and varied history. It was originally opened as a gold and silver mine in 1906, but it soon became a copper mine after large amounts of copper ore were discovered nearby.
  • In 1911, the Utah Copper Company purchased the property and began extracting large quantities of copper from the ground. By 1920, production at the Bingham Canyon Mine had surpassed 1 million ton (907,184 met ton) of ore per year.
  • The mine continued to operate successfully for many years, but it suffered a major setback in 1983 when a massive landslide destroyed the pit's bottom two-thirds and decreased the production of mined copper by a lot.
  • The company was able to rebuild and resume operations, but another landslide occurred in 2013 that again damaged the mine.
  • Despite these setbacks, the Bingham Canyon Mine remains one of the world's largest and most productive copper mines. It is estimated that the mining, production, and ore processing or copper will continue at this site till at least 2032!
  • Landslides in the Bingham Canyon Mine, Utah seem to occur due to seismic movement underneath the Earth's crust, which causes powerful avalanches near the mine.
Bingham Canyon Mine at Salt Lake City Utah

What operations are carried out in Bingham Canyon Mine?

Bingham Canyon Mine operates under the open-pit method with a series of benches to conduct the operations. Operations include drilling, blasting, and hauling ore to mills for processing where it undergoes crushing, grinding, and flotation before being smelted at Kennecott’s refinery in Magna Utah.

  • After 14 years of operation from its inception in 1910, Kennecott has mined about $290 million worth of copper.
  • In 2004 alone it yielded about $12 billion of copper worth almost $800 million dollars on the market value when sold together with gold and silver valued at $70 million.
  • The Bingham Canyon Mine’s annual production rate is estimated at 300,000 tons (272,155 met ton) of copper, more than 10,000 ton (9070 met ton) of molybdenum, and 150 ton (136 met ton) of gold and silver annually.
  • The Bingham Canyon Mine has operated continuously for over 100 years now since its inception in 1906 by the Boston Consolidated Mining Company.
  • During this period, it has changed hands several times with the latest being Rio Tinto Group in 1989 bought Kennecott Copper Corporation until today where it still operates under its control as a subsidiary company (Bingham Canyon Mine).
  • Currently, there are about 2,500 employees working on a rotational basis to ensure continuous operation at the mine. This number comprises mostly of union workers from the United Steelworkers and the International Union of Operating Engineers.
  • The Kennecott Utah Copper Corporation has also invested in various social responsibility programs in the local area around Bingham Canyon Mine that benefit both its employees and the community at large.
  • Some of these initiatives include a $15 million healthcare center, a recreation center, affordable housing units, and an education fund.
  • The Bingham Canyon Mine is one of the largest open-pit mines in operation today with a very high annual production rate.
  • It has been continuously operated for over 100 years now with Rio Tinto Group as the current owner and operator.

What is the environment impact of Bingham Canyon Mine?

In terms of air quality, emissions from the smelter have contained arsenic, lead, cadmium, and other heavy metals which are known carcinogens.

  • These pollutants have had serious health implications for both workers and residents living in close proximity to the mine.
  • For example, it has been estimated that in the period between 1965 and 1985, there were more than 1,000 cases of cancer caused by the exposure to toxins from the smelter.
  • In addition, the dust emissions from the Bingham Canyon Mine were also found to contain 0.56% of lead. This is a significant amount and reflects how detrimental this pollutant is for air quality, causing health problems for individuals exposed to it.
  • The mine also has high levels of asbestos that contributes to illnesses such as lung cancer in the workers.
  • The mine has also had a significant impact on water resources in the area. The main reason for this is that it is located in an arid region and any additional withdrawals from the groundwater or surface water systems can be quite damaging.
  • In terms of groundwater, there have been concerns that mining wastes have led to a decline in water levels in the area. This is particularly worrying as it could lead to long-term negative impacts on both the environment and local communities.
  • In terms of surface water, Kennecott Copper Corporation was found to be discharging pollutants into Little Cottonwood Creek which caused damage to the aquatic ecosystem of nearby water bodies.
  • The most significant impact of the mine on land has been its effect on the landscape. The open-pit mining process involved the excavation of large amounts of earth which was then used to create a mound around the pit. This created a massive man-made plateau that is clearly visible from satellite imagery.
  • In addition to changing the physical appearance of the area, this process also destroyed natural habitats and disrupted traditional ways of life for local communities.
  • For instance, it led to the loss of grazing land for livestock and reduced access to vital resources such as water and timber.
  • It is clear that the Bingham Canyon Mine has had significant negative impacts on both air quality and water resources in the surrounding area.
  • There may have been short-term economic benefits for some individuals due to employment opportunities at Kennecott Copper Corporation during its operation years, however over time these benefits have been outweighed because many people have suffered from health problems.
  • The mine is also damaging the environment in terms of land and water degradation, impacting the livelihoods of those who live near the mine.
  • In addition to copper and other minerals, the mine produces more than 200 million tons (181,436,948 met ton) of rock every year – enough to fill nearly 300 football fields stacked 4 mi (6.5 km) high with debris!
  • The waste rock is moved through a series of conveyor belts out of sight underground until it can be disposed of safely in designated areas away from people or water sources.

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Written by Tanya Parkhi

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Economics

Tanya Parkhi picture

Tanya ParkhiBachelor of Arts specializing in Economics

Tanya is a skilled content creator with a passion for writing and a love for exploring new cultures. With a degree in Economics from Fergusson College, Pune, India, Tanya worked on her writing skills by contributing to various editorials and publications. She has experience writing blogs, articles, and essays, covering a range of topics. Tanya's writing reflects her interest in travel and exploring local traditions. Her articles showcase her ability to engage readers and keep them interested.

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Fact-checked by Amatullah Gulbargawala

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English, Bachelor of Education specializing in the Language Arts

Amatullah Gulbargawala picture

Amatullah GulbargawalaBachelor of Arts specializing in English, Bachelor of Education specializing in the Language Arts

Amatullah is a passionate student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education from Ashoka College of Education. With a keen interest in literature, she has excelled in elocution competitions and is an accomplished writer. She has completed courses like "History of English Language and Literature", "Introduction to Western Political Thought and Theory", and "Development of Soft Skills and Personality". In her free time, Amatullah enjoys reading books and writing poetry.

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