The Free Agent has continued to think about the Bingham Canyon mine after last week’s post.
As the mountain has come down, what has been built up is literally invaluable—knowledge. In 2005, the value of once-nuisance molybdenum exceeded the value of the ever-useful copper. As geologic knowledge and mine technology has increased, Kennecott is able to follow veins of ore much more accurately, necessitating removal/exploration of less non-ore mountain. The combination of knowledge and its earthly handmaiden, technology, means that while this may be a mountain that was, it is now a mine that makes it unnecessary to dig other mines.
A maxim that’s true in other areas of life is also true with mining, you have to start from where you are. In 1906, the only economical technique for extracting Bingham Canyon ore was scooping out chunks of mountain as if it were Ben & Jerry’s Oquirrh Mountain flavor. The labor force required to work the ore in those days reached 20,000. Today, only 1600 people are needed to extract many times the tonnage of the mine’s early days. But in order to get from point A to D, you have to go through B and C. (If for no other reason than that a lot of copper had to be mined to make the computers that map out the porphyry ore deposits!)
Another mountain of knowledge is in reclamation. This is a First World problem, but a real one. As it became clear the Kennecott mine could be exploited indefinitely, the company had to respond to residents’ and employees’ quality of life needs. Oh, how the oh-niner miners would have howled had their bosses worried about sustainable development! But don’t take my word, The Free Agent has seen for herself the ne plus ultra symbol of environmental consciousness heavy industry strives for: a flock of ducks on a former toxic waste heap. The ducks, they won’t lie.
Another reality the 09ers knew is that mining is inherently dangerous. Annual fatalities in the early Twentieth Century averaged 1500. In the Twenty-First, we average 62. Again, we have the slag heap of knowledge to thank for real, countable, human lives.
So keep your Disneyland, your St. Tropez, your under-age brothels—The Free Agent will vacation at a mine any day!