Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Utah Places: Bingham Canyon Mine

The largest artificial hole in the earth, Bingham Canyon Mine is one of the wonders of the world, and a monument to industry. There are tours conducted on a regular basis. Some of the mining machinery is very impressive, but all is dwarfed in scale by the huge open pit excavation.

Visitors Center


Billy Bob Bambino Bombabious Baby the Third said...

I am amazed that they could dig this far without hitting water. We dig down 12' or so here and have a self-filling swimming pool. I wonder if it's because the rock is so porous that it flows another way. Or perhaps it's the opposite - it's impermeable so it acts as a natural dam. Hmmm...

It's an ugly eyesore, though. I wonder what the Salt Lake Valley looked like before they started digging the hole to China... To me it's always looked like a cancerous pustule...

Jim Cobabe said...


Before they started digging it away, apparently it used to look like a mountain.

The tailings pile mutely tells the story. It covers a huge acreage in the Magna neighborhood.

No accounting for human perception. Many Kennecot people look on this handiwork with great pride. I see it as a mixed blessing, at best.

a little music said...

I rather think that God put those minerals in the earth on purpose, and figured that we peons would find a way to get them out (consider the golden plates and such). I like the idea that there are so few spots where we harvest them. Furthermore, I think the mine is kind of nifty. It supplies ores of all kinds which are very useful for all sorts of things.

Archetecturally speaking, places like this mine are an absolute necessity, so it is a little bit of a contradiction for someone whose living depends upon building and archetecture to be thinking that a mine like this is awful.

And the water table isn't real high in a desert mountain, at least not like it is right near the ocean, I would think, anyway. Of course, I could be wrong. I don't have an advanced degree, of course. What do you think, Jim?

Jim Cobabe said...


You are both in the ball park with guesses, I think. Kennecot's operations have been pumping water from the pit since it began. There is a virtual river flowing from it, desert or not.

Open pit mining has been exhausted in Bingham Canyon. Most of the mining operation that takes place is traditional underground mine-shaft excavation, or so I was led to believe. The problem they encountered is that the walls of the pit were widened out so far that they started excavating old spoil dump, and would be increasingly moving dirt that has been scooped up before just to widen the diameter of the pit. So instead, the mining proceeds in the follow-the-richest-lode method, digging tunnels instead of excavating all of the overburden.

Whether mining operations are beautiful or ugly depends upon your perspective. The work in progress certainly leaves a lot to be desired. On the other hand, the point about vital materials that cannot be obtained any other way is a good one.

As for the pit itself, it sits as a marvel to behold. Seven pyramids of Egypt could fit in it comfortably. Why do I think it is ugly? To me, mining is symbolic of exploitation and greed. And I suppose too, I'm a bit jealous of all that wealth.

Billy Bob Bambino Bombabious Baby the Third said...

It's one of the basic problems I have with mineral exploitation in any sense, but particularly on public lands. These lands and resources belong to the people of the United States. Oil and mineral companies like to say that they're not doing anyone any good sitting underneath all that rock. But the wealth of our nation is being exploited for private gain. The rocks and oil and things belong to all of us, yet they make profit for very few of us and despoil the landscape, air, and water. We'll be paying for that for years to come. See this site for more interesting clean up information.

72 square miles have been polluted by this harvest spot for minerals. That includes most of the west side of the Salt Lake Valley, polluting many of the streams and aquifers that people must rely on for culinary and agricultural use. Rocks are great, but you can't drink them or eat them.

Jim Cobabe said...


I tend to side with the Rand group on this kind of thought. Kennecot's mine is not just a private enterprise -- it employs thousands, totheir mutual benefit, and has done for decades. Brigham Young did not close the mines. Neither will I condemn them with my armchair critiqing. I recognize that although I do not care for all the results, they got the job done. For these guys, their job was to produce copper. They succeeded -- in rather spectacular fashion.

We might also look at three new temples being constructed in the west of Salt Lake, that might not have been without the efforts of Kennecot. Interesting, no? Who can say how the Lord completes his work?

Grandma Cobabe said...

I remember taking ourfamily to see "THE COPPER MINE" years ago and all of our kids were facinated by the big trucks moving along like toys in the distance, They used to take you on a little tour. Another time we took some of my Uncles kids who lived right there in Salt lake. They had never even been to see the copper mine and knew nothing about it.We also took them to swim in the Salt Lake. They had never been there either.. I always liked to take our kids to explore the unusual.

Billy Bob Bambino Bombabious Baby the Third said...

The Rand group tends to marginalize themselves almost as well as the Greenpeace or Sierra Club... ;-)

Employment is a fickle thing. Yes, it employs thousands (including some of the earlies Korean immigrants into the Salt Lake Valley). But when the steel plant in Orem went out of business and thousands lost their jobs, they did not go begging. They either went to other plants or industries. The degradation in quality of life on that side of the valley is something we're going to have to deal with for a lot longer and will end up costing us more than what was extracted. Thousands may have been employed, but millions will feel the adverse effects of the pollution, both above ground and subsurface.

The production of copper is not the job. The job is to make money. In this case, quite literally. And the rest of the world be damned... Quite literally. They take our resources for their own profit and pollute the earth we all share, then we are left with the clean up bill also. It's a little like someone coming to your house, taking your food and then leaving you with the mess to clean up afterward.

The argument about the temples is a little spurious. Yes, they donated land and other resources for the building of temples. One side of me wants to acknowledge that gift, while the other wants to know what that did for their property values and marketability... And their "charitable donations" tax write-off... I am sure that they had the most honest of intentions, but I am also sure that they take full advantage of the other benefits as well. The argument also does not address the temples all over the world that were built prior to this outpouring of generosity.

The Lord works through men for their benefit and learning and His glory. Our progression glorifies a loving and merciful Father and His Plan. He turns all things to His ends, all the way back to the fall of man... His work is never complete.

a little music said...

I recall a little known prophecy from Brother Brigham (which, of course, I cannot site) that states something to the fact that there would eventually be more population on the west side of Utah than on the East. When we moved to Eagle Mountain, we all found it fascinating.

Anyway, the minerals have to come from somewhere. Would we be happier if they came from somewhere in a third world country where we didn't have to see it happening? Then people would just complain about slave labor. Or maybe we would just be happier if it all took place underground, where we don't see it happening at all - but then people die, they get squished flat like pancakes. It happens out here all the time, and I don't like it.

There's always something to gripe about, isn't there?

I'm with Jim. I'm not going to be an armchair critic. I may not love all that goes on, but they do what needs to be done. God put these ores and minerals in the earth for the use of man, and we need them. I'm grateful for them. I'm not going to complain. I'm glad. Personally, I think the mine is beautiful, like a work of art, something akin to the spiral jetty on the Great Salt Lake. It holds a palette of color that displays God's hand coupled with years of the craftsmanship of man. How many men put their lives into that work to feed their families and supply the nation with needed ores? I thank them, and I bless them.

As to the nation funding the cleanup, well, the nation benefits from the mine, why shouldn't the nation help with the cleanup? There is so much in the world today that says everything should be someone else's responsibility. If people started taking responsibility for things, and stopped shrugging them off in apathy, claiming it's someone else's problem, just imagine where we would be.

Now, that's just getting into my little dreamworld.

Jim Cobabe said...


I'm not understanding your argument. The Kennnecot people work to make money -- of course. There is nothing secret or sinister in that end, is there? A lot of enterprise in the world is intended to be gainful -- indeed it would be quite purposeless otherwise, I suppose.

The hallmark of a successful transaction is where both sides are well served. I think the copper industry meets this provision as well as most. I am aware of deficiencies in their safety and pollution. What other shortcomings do they need to meet? Do you think we should just live without metals?

Jim Cobabe said...


I am not trying to put you on the spot. You might share some thoughts about this, and we can examine them. Again, not to criticize you personally. Thanks for playing.

Different ideas keep life interesting. If we all thought alike, it would be very dull.

Jim Cobabe said...


I am reading with some envy that placer mining in Bingham Creek yielded over $2 million in gold alone. Thats a lot of money for the pre-1900 era. In todays dollars, a bank full to overflowing. It makes my mouth drool just think about all that gold, and the amount is just a pittance compared to the ore Kennecot has mined.

Of course, I am still looking for a huge nugget sticking out from the dirt, that I just happen on, and stub my toes passing by. I am much too lazy to be an actual gold miner -- dirty, dangerous sweaty work.

Billy Bob Bambino Bombabious Baby the Third said...

I guess the root of my problem lies in the paradigm that justifies the reduction of everything in our world to a commodity to be exploited. People sell everything, and in our "free" market as long as there are people to buy it there will always be a producer. The extension of my problem lies in the fact that these resources belong to all of us, like water or air or oil, but because only a few people have been able to get at them (based mainly on luck - as opposed to the thorough research that goes on now with oil/gas exploration) for whatever reason they gain the benefit while the rest of us pay the price.

I don't know what to do differently. I don't know enough about mining or the extraction of minerals to decide what would be the best route to get at the stuff. And I do acknowledge the need - I am not a Luddite who thinks we ought to live in caves or whatever... There's got to be a better way to handle the tailings and rock pile.

As to the economics, I am disappointed by the idea that the rich, because of their resources and abilities to mobilize those resources, gain access to additional resources in which the rest of us ought to share. Clean air and water are primary and vital concerns, more so than having access to copper, gold, etc. And it seems we'll be paying for the rich folks exploitation of our environment for many years to come. The economics of the equation is unfairly balanced toward the miners.

I have had my chances to say what I think. I am lucky in my current community that the resource being exploited is thousands of feet underground (for the most part - there are some brine pits that they use to keep the pressure up). But even those people who live in Texas and will never see the copper mine have a vested interest in the communal possessions that are federal lands and national resources. Everyone has an interest in clean air and water. I am not in my armchair - I am an active participant in the process.

Jim Cobabe said...


I like to discuss these matters here, because it gives a chance for all sides of the argument to express something. For example, you seem to think there is something nefarious about the development that Kennecot promotes, but scoff at their contribution to temples that are being built. Maybe even Kennecot is learning something from you, and from those who speak of such things. The new Oquirrh Hills Temple is being constructed on land that is reclaimed from former tailings. The Daybreak development was a copper smelter and tailings pile, then and ATV park, then a superfund target cleanup site. Afterward, it is clean enough to support home building. This as a picture of what companies who weild that kind of power can do, if their energy is turned to constructive things.

Before the area was reclaimed, it was a nightmare of pollution. Heavy metals and arsenates from copper and gold processing laced the poisoned "sand dunes" of the site. The city designated the area for ATV use unwittingly, not realizing that thousands came to play on this horrifying poisoned ground. I think the town that used to be there was called "Lark" or some such - there was an old smelter, and tailing were just dumped and left where they laid. That was more than fifty years ago. Nobody did anything different back then.

Today, Kennecot and others have cleaned up the area, and it is one of the showcase engineering developments of the west side.

Quite a contrast.

Something to think about...

Jim Cobabe said...


It seems to be a common misconception that mining interests reap profits and EPA funds the cleanup. I do not get this impression about the Bingham Canyon cleanup or most of the other cleanup jobs I have heard the details about. In the case that private land owners default on debts and go bankrupt, the government gets left holding the bag. But Kennecot is still a private company, and is paying to clean up mining sites they did not even own at the time of pollution. In their case, they responded to pressure from courts and the public to clean things up. The effort is funded in part by profits from land development. Anyway, so I gather from what I have read, dig into the links Bill gave if youre interested.

Jim Cobabe said...


As I read the links you gave, it seems Kennecot is funding the cleanup with some of the proceeds from their Daybreak deveopment, or am I reading it wrong?

a little music said...

Jim, I was basing my ignorant assumptions on the cleanup of Geneva, in Orem. That project is being done through a combination of private funds and federal grants. The land will eventually be turned into profitable and useful land again, some of Utah county's only unused land left, incidentally. I have a wealthy friend who is in on the deal. Lots of money to be made, lots of homes and parks and happy people to be made. Everyone comes out happy in the end, even the environmentalists, I should think.

That's what I don't get about the whole copper mine deal. Eventually it all gets cleaned up and everyone ends up happy, don't they? In the meantime, jobs were created, ores were mined, pretty things were made, and everyone benefitted. I'm thinking deer and badgers still forage around up there in them thar hills, even if they've been dug up. I'll bet they're even used to the scenery!

If it would make people happy, maybe we could suggest to the Kennecot people that they pile the mountain back up a bit when they're all done, so it looks a little peaky, like a mountain again. And maybe they could reseed and plant some bushes and stuff. What? That's called reforestation? You mean there's already something like that invented? Hmmm . . . then that would just be reinventing the wheel! Silly me.

Well, I say we let them go on raping and pillaging the land, 'cause I like all the nice stuff they dig up. I find it downright useful - spoons, forks, copper wire, gold bouillon, silver fillings, you know, all that useless stuff.

Or maybe we could just find it laying around on the ground. Wait! That's what Kennecot is doing! LOL

a little music said...

Oh, John Denver will strike me dead!

Beth said...

Hmmm, some of these comments bring me to think about the old controversy made new again... all that waste being sent to the west desert. If Energy Solutions pours enough money into our local economy, does that make it ok to pile toxic waste next door? Are we being "bought" if we accept these monetary gifts and turn our heads to the reality that will as said, not be recognized for years to come? What is the difference between these two examples? Just a thought.

Jim Cobabe said...


I know what you mean -- the question is not whether I'm being paranoid, but am I being paranoid enough!

a little music said...

Who is being bought? The land is being cleaned up and the land that is cleaned up is useful. What is to gripe about???

Personally I don't understand all the tree huggery. I don't see the harm. Has the earth not been given to us for our benefit, to be used and taken advantage of? What unprofitable servants would we be if we knew of resources that the Lord intentionally placed in/on this marvelous world he created for our use, and we refused his blessings, claiming that we didn't want to spoil a good thing. How ungrateful! What brats we would be!

Check out Matthew 25, the parable of the talents. The Lord was pleased with the servants who he gave talents to that multiplied the talents. But there was one goofball servant who said he "was afraid", so he went and buried his talent so nothing would happen to it. When the Lord came back, he punished the servant who did nothing with what he had given the unprofitable servant. I'd post it here, but there isn't room, so look it up yourself.

This passage of scripture has numerous messages, a veritable wealth of wisdom in and of itself. First, a plain message of a man who sought wealth - the Lord is not condemning the quest for wealth. There's nothing wrong with making money! I believe it is generally known that the leaders of the church are typically wealthy men. They've made their wealth through industrious living, so I'm not going to call them greedy for doing so. I'm also not going to call people who have vested interests in mining greedy, just because they pursue a living or even amass wealth.

Second, the blessings, or talents spoken of in this passage of scripture were clearly to be used, taken advantage of, made use of. The servant who "was afraid" to do so was chastised by the Lord, and his talent was taken away. I presume that the Lord has blessed us with an abundant earth, one of the many talents with which he has blessed us, and expects us to make use of it. The fact that there are a few scars upon the land is a small thing compared to the idea that we are taking advantage of and making use of the gifts that God has placed in the earth for our use.

Third, and simply put, I'm not going to presume to second guess the Lord.

And not to be snide, but honestly Billy Bob Bambino Bombabious Baby the Third, you basically work for the oil industry. Maybe you are too young to recall Exxon Valdez and others of its ilk, but I am not. You are bought and paid by an industry that does more damage to the earth than any other I can think of. Stop driving a car made of steel dug out of the earth and fueled by energy pumped out of the earth (I don't care if you even drive a natural gas vehicle. I've seen the scars upon the land from the natural gas pipe lines.) Stop living in a home made from trees cut from the rainforests that give us clean air and nails and pipes and wires that were mined from those horrid pit mines. Stop working for a town owned and built by the oil industry. Stop using traditional medicine, pillaged from the rainforests, and developed in chemical plants that pollute the earth. Don't bother taking your children in for an x-ray when they brake their bones, because all that radiology is so bad for the environment. You have no idea how much radioactive wastewater it creates, seriously. Medical waste accounts for soooo much toxic waste, it would just make you jump back from that tree you are hugging. LOL And forget about a cast for those broken limbs, or insulating your home - fiberglass! The horror!

Admit it. You're a part of the problem and you don't have a clue as to the solution.

I have an idea - stop whining about it! When you come up with a legitimate idea, come back with it. Griping about people who work hard and make money is lame and not productive. You work hard and make money, I have no problem with that - even though you make your money off the back of your oil producing employer town. Go for it. You live in a capitalist society. Huzzah!

a little music said...

Beth -

The difference between these two examples is that the Bingham copper mine is here. The source of the issue is here. It is in the mountains that were here before people were. The toxic waste that Energy Solutions wanted to dump on us came from someplace else. We aren't asking anyone else to take our crap, as in the Energy Solutions scenario.

I really see no similarities between the two scenarios. Sorry.

a little music said...

Jim, your conversation is so vastly improved. I'm really impressed with your fluidity and level of ability to express yourself. Good work!

Keep up the amazing progress. I'm having fun in the conversation.



Billy Bob Bambino Bombabious Baby the Third said...

Cleaned up is a relative term, I guess. Remember, they thought they had cleaned up Love Canal also, which led to most of the current environmental legislation on the books. CERCLA funds are intended to help pay for the clean up of these sites, but they only clean up sites that are not currently in use. Again, with Kennecott being an active site, their clean up effort amounts to meeting current environmental standards. The clean up you mention probably has more to do with the development potential of their mining claims as real estate. It also looks good for public relations. Which leads me back to the reason why they donated land to the Church for the construction of temples - I am sure they had good intentions. And there's nothing (on the surface) wrong with using those good intentions to raise the property values of adjacent land. So if the donation of land to the Church raises the value of adjacent property to more than the value of donated land, is it really a charitable donation? Or is it a self-serving deal orchestrated to raise the bottom line of a company looking for ways to stay afloat? These guys are very shrewd business people. They know what they're doing - each step carefully orchestrated to maximize their benefit from each transaction. So do the ends justify the means? Is it morally correct to say that they have donated anything? The same thing happens when developers "donate" land to schools (donate in quotes because they still get a sizable tax write off) for the construction of new facilities. Yes, schools are good, and living in proximity to a school is desirable. This serves to raise property values and the developers bottom line. In the end, everyone benefits, but the developer most of all.

I guess it may be just my own opinion, but heavy industry in the United States is very ugly. Mining, oil refining, steel plants, automotive manufacturing facilities, etc, all provide jobs and necessary and desirable things that support our lifestyle. But they could be done in such a better, environmentally friendly, and aesthetically pleasing way.... But they're not. Ironically, steps taken to rectify these imbalances could ultimately serve to increase the bottom line long-term and provide stability and sustainability while becoming a marketing point...

Jim Cobabe said...


The main reason I mentioned the temple development is not because I think Kennecot has a big heart. I cite this as evidence that the cleanup effort is working. Certainly a polluted tailings dump would not be a suitable location for a temple, unless it were clean from pollution. At least, that is my thinking. Perhaps the brethren see it differently...

Jim Cobabe said...


This discussion is about general ideas and how they affect us all. Let's try to avoid any overly personal remarks. Some have tender hearts and sensitive feelings. So say what you think about the envirnment, but be circumspect about personal criticism.

We're all friends.


Jim Cobabe said...


You're welcome to criticize me all you want. Water off a ducks back, and all that.

Billy Bob Bambino Bombabious Baby the Third said...

You are right of course. I would never presume to criticize the Brethren. As my mother has always taught me - never supress a generous thought or act. I guess I should be more circumspect in my "armchair criticism".

I don't know what you are referring to in the "personal remarks" reference. Is it me? If so, and I have offended, I certainly apologize. I meant no offense, and if any was taken I am sorry to anyone offended.

The earth and it's resources are ours to use. My only point is that we should be careful how we recieve/use these resources. I think it's more ungrateful to act with wanton disregard for the consequences of our actions than to carefully consider results, alternatives, and constantly strive for cleaner, more efficient ways of doing things. I also think that the greatest resource we have is our ability to innovate, to change the way we do things so that we are not so damaging to the world in which we live. It would also be ungrateful not to do that to the best of our abilities.

Jim Cobabe said...


I agree with your general obervations, and respect your thinking, though we disagree about a number of details. We could work thinks out if people put us in charge. That is all that matters. I suppose.

There are so many things wrong in the world, sometimes I despair. We need to talk them over, to redress wrong, try to serve righteousness and goodness. I know that is what you are all about, and it is what I want too. We just lack a certain symmetry over how to get there. Keep trying. We must keep the lines of communication open. When people stop talking, things stop getting done. That is the worst result possible most of the time.

Billy Bob Bambino Bombabious Baby the Third said...

One of the gratifying parts of my job is that I get to be a participant in many of these things. I am able to give meaningful input into programs and people who are trying to fix the problems. While I am not a very big part, I am able to do what I can. It's what gets me out of bed in the morning, anyway!


a little music said...

I would personally love to see hydrogen powered vehicles in place, but that would put the oil industry out of business. That is the worst possible thing that could happen to our country's, and indeed the global, economy right now.

What is "good for the earth" is not always what is paramount in importance. All things in their time and season, etc.

Right now, in this struggling economy, I am most concerned with my neighbor who cannot afford proper medical care, and a friend who cannot feed her family. I am not particularly concerned about Bingham Copper Mine, which is being taken care of in its own way.

There simply are more important things to worry about. Humanity is at an all time high, in terms of depravity. THAT concerns me. I lose sleep over that.

The work of the gospel rolls forward, and the earth is part of that work. I trust that the Lord will take care of things in his own way, and that the wrinkles will get ironed out. I teach my children to love the earth and its inhabitants as much as it is possible, and to make use of the resources at their disposal in the most efficient manner possible. It has long been my mantra to "think globally, act locally". My scope of influence may be small, but I do what I can.

Mostly, I try not to concern myself with things that just don't really matter. The people who live around Bingham Copper Mine seem just fine with it.

Bill, if you could see the growth that has taken place in the last year in that area, I think you would be surprised. You really have no idea. I think you are worrying needlessly.

briancobabe said...

man ... i'd love to go hiking around there with you jim. looks pretty amazing