Published on May 30th, 2014 | by UC&D Magazine0
Owner Spotlight: Rio Tinto/Kennecott
Kennecott Slide: One Year Later
One of world’s largest open pit copper mines took seven months to recover from slide; company still faces challenges in returning to capacity production.
Standing at the top of the Bingham Canyon Mine and peering down into the spacious pit at myriad activities of numerous giant haul trucks and other massive mine equipment, Eric Cannon surveys the scene and says, “just a big sandbox with a bunch of cool toys.”
Cannon’s assessment of daily mining operations at the 108-year-old mine (production began in 1906) has a sliver of truth to it – big boys playing with easily the biggest toys one can imagine in a mine that is more than 3,000 feet deep, 2.5 miles wide and covers 1,900 acres – but the reality is that KUCC workers and local construction firms have been putting in long, arduous, round- the-clock hours in some cases in an effort to get back up to speed in recent months.
It’s been more than a year since Rio Tinto-owned Kennecott Utah Copper Corporation (KUCC) was rocked with the largest landslide in North American history – more than 145 million tons of earth – on April 10, 2013, enough to bury New York’s Central Park under more than 60 feet of debris.
Since then, crews have furiously worked to return the mine to full operational capacity, but challenges still remain at the Bingham Canyon site, which is one of the largest open pit copper mines in the world.
Cannon, who serves as a Contract Coordinator with KUCC, was in charge of commissioning all new equipment used during the slide recovery process, which shut down operations temporarily.
Fortunately, geological engineers knew the slide was coming in advance and KUCC made sure no one was in the immediate vicinity. There were no injuries; however, several pieces of large equipment – including 13 giant haul trucks (many of them Komatsu 930E models that are 29 ft. wide, 51 ft. long, and have 12.5 ft. tires) –were buried. A total of 16 pieces of large equipment have been recovered, which includes one giant electric shovel, two electric drills, two water trucks, one front-
end loader and 10 haul trucks. Four of the 13 haul trucks buried are back in service.
“We knew the slide was coming,” said Cannon. “It was surreal to see the amount of earth that moved. It took us awhile to get back up and running like this.” Ground movement was originally detected in February 2013, and geologists carefully monitored acceleration rates as they increased. KUCC officials took preemptive measures to relocate employees, facilities and roads weeks in advance of the slide. On the morning of April 10, work was halted and all employees from the lower portion of Bingham Canyon Mine were moved by 11:00 a.m. The slide hit at 9:30 p.m. that night.
“We are currently facing tremendous challenges as we recover equipment and move dirt and rock from the lower pit,” added Kyle Bennett, Senior Communications Advisor for KUCC/Rio Tinto. “Our employees have risen to the occasion by moving our business forward in a safe and resourceful manner. We have slowed some projects as we reallocate capital and resources. Bennett said recovery efforts will continue for likely close to two more years, until early 2016.
Despite slowed production, the mine continues to produce large amounts of copper (196,000 tons in 2013), gold (192,300 ounces), silver (2.1 million ounces), molybdenum (5,700 tons), and sulphuric acid (922,590 tons).
Bennett and Cannon offered praise to local contractors and equipment suppliers for their quick response and timely efforts in helping recover equipment and get the main access road reopened by the end of October, seven months ahead of schedule. Some of the firms involved in this recovery process included Granite Construction, W.W. Clyde, Wheeler Machinery, Komatsu, and Arnold Machinery.
“We have made tremendous progress with our business recovery,” said Bennett. “We have moved millions of tons of material to stabilize areas of concern and clean up the bottom of the pit, and we reconstructed our mine access road and continue to deliver and process new ore.”
Bennett added that while no new slides are expected in the immediate future, KUCC geotechnical experts are utilizing sophisticated geotechnical- monitoring equipment, including radar and ground probes, to determine if a slide would occur on the northeast wall of the mine.