Bingham Canyon (Kennecott) Copper Mine
It is the world's deepest man-made open pit excavation.
|Bingham Canyon (Kennecott) Copper Mine|
Location: Salt Lake County, Utah, United States.
Owner: Rio Tinto Group.
Ore Type : Porphyry copper deposit.
The history of the Mine:
Bingham Canyon was settled in 1848 by the Bingham brothers, Thomas and Sanford, who were ranchers with no mining experience. In 1863, soldiers stationed at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City explored the canyon and discovered lead ore. Utah’s first mining district was created in the Bingham Canyon area that same year. In 1893, Daniel Jackling, a metallurgical engineer, and Robert Gemmell, a mining engineer, studied the deposit and recommended developing the ore body through a revolutionary open-pit mining method and processing the ore on a large, industrial scale. The miners and their families lived near Bingham Canyon in places called Highland Boy, Copper Heights, Copperfield, Carr Fork, Heaston Heights, Telegraph, Dinkeyville, Terrace Heights, Greek Camp and Frog Town. At one point, the population in the area approached 20,000 people. In 1903, the Utah Copper Company was formed to develop the mine, based on the recommendations of Mr. Jackling and Mr. Gemmell. In 1906, the first steam shovels began mining away the waste rock that covered the ore body. The ore was found in a part of the mountain that divided the main canyon.
Geology of the Mine:
Every deposit of ore in the world is unique. There are no two ore bodies that are alike. Geologic forces were at work in the Oquirrh Mountains between 260 and 320 million years ago (Late Paleozoic Period). About 30 to 40 million years ago, molten, metal-bearing rock deep within the earth’s crust began to push toward the surface and formed Bingham’s ore deposit. Volcanoes erupted above the evolving ore body. This particular ore body contains primarily copper, gold, silver and molybdenum.
Tiny grains of ore minerals, mostly copper and iron sulfides, are scattered within what is called “host rock.” Because there is far more host rock than there are minerals, it is known as a low-grade ore deposit. Because this is a low-grade deposit, a ton of ore contains only about 10.6 pounds of copper. For every ton of ore removed, about two tons of overburden must first be removed to gain access to the ore.
How big is the Bingham Canyon Mine?
Kennecott Utah Copper’s (KUC) Bingham Canyon Mine has produced more copper than any mine in history— about 18.1 million tons.
The mine is 2¾ miles across at the top and ¾ of a mile deep. You could stack two Sears Towers (now known as the Willis building), on top of each other and still not reach the top of the mine. The mine is so big it can be seen by space shuttle astronauts as they pass over the United States. By 2015, the mine will be more than 500 feet deeper than it is now. If you stretched out all the roads in the open-pit mine— some 500 miles of roadway — you’d have enough distance to reach from Salt Lake City to Denver. KUC mines about 55,000,000 tons of copper ore and 120,000,000 tons of overburden per year.
The mining process:
Bingham Canyon Mine This is where the mining process begins. Every day, Kennecott Utah Copper mines about 150,000 tons of copper ore and 330,000 tons of overburden. The ore containing copper, gold, silver and molybdenum is hauled and deposited in the in-pit crusher and sent to the Copperton Concentrator.
Copperton Concentrator From the mine, ore is transported on a five-mile conveyor and stockpiled at the Copperton Concentrator. There the ore is ground into fine particles. The smaller pieces are then combined with air, water and chemical reagents to separate the valuable minerals from the waste rock. The mineral bearing concentrate is then transported to the smelter through a pipeline.
Tailings: Are the leftover rock material that have had most of the valuable metals removed. Tailings are sent through a pipeline from the Copperton Concentrator to the tailings impoundment north of the town of Magna where they are stored.
Smelter: At the smelter, the copper concentrate is transformed into liquid copper through a flash smelting process. The copper matte is processed in the furnace to produce 98.6 percent blister copper. From there, the 720 pound copper plates, called anodes, are sent to the refinery.
Refinery: At the refinery, anodes are lowered into electrolytic cells containing a stainless steel blank and acidic solution. For 10 days, an electric current is sent between the anode and the cathode, causing the copper ions to migrate to the steel sheet. The other impurities, including gold and silver, fall into the bottom of the cell and are recovered in the Precious Metals plant. This process forms a plate of 99.99% pure copper. The copper is separated from the steel sheet and sent to market.