The Utah Bingham Colossus – the biggest surface copper mine in the world – Part One

Copper is a noble, red, malleable, and ductile metal. It has been discovered as one of the first metals by people. It was mined, during the era of ancient Rome, especially on Cyprus. This is where its Latin name comes from – cyprium, cuprum.

World deposits are estimated to 540 million tonnes. In 2008, 15.4 million tonnes were mined all around the world.

The biggest producers of this metal are Chile, Peru, China, USA, and Australia. Because copper is the best conductor of electricity, it is predominantly used in electrotechnical industry. It is used on wires, antennas, coil winding of electrical engines and transformers. It is also used on the form of copper sheets – in Art and, also as roofing material. Also, the alloys of copper are very important – bronze that is used for the production of bearings, gearwheels, statues, and coins. And brass, that is used for example for ironwork production.

There are approximately ten deposits od copper in the world. The deposit in Bingham is of the porphyry copper type of metal deposits. They are quite poor but of great size. Today, they are the most important source of copper.

Creation and history

Bingham mine is the biggest and also the largest surface mine in the world. It is also the most productive copper mine in history. It is located approximately 40 kilometres southwest from the Salt Lake City in the Quirrh Mountains mountain range in the state Utah. The deposit of porphyry copper was created here at the beginning of the Oligocene period 39.8 – 36.6 million years ago. It was the youngest ore-forming periods in Cordilleras where also other ore deposits were created -gold, silver, molybdenum, quicksilver, beryllium, and also to some extent of uranium. Copper was discovered here by the Bingham brothers – Thomas and Sandford in the middle of the 19th century and has been mined here since 1906.

The mine in numbers

The size of the mine is really colossal: depth 970 metres, width 4 kilometres, 7.7 square kilometres of area.

The size of the mine has not changed in twenty years, with the exception of depth (which has increased by 165 metres since 1993). In 1993 the mine had fifty three levels with average height of 15.2 metres. If the other levels were build with the same height, it would mean that the mine has today sixty four levels. The depth of the mine in comparison with today’s skyscrapers:  the highest American skyscraper Willis Tower (former Season Tower) in Chicago is 442 metres high. The highest skyscraper Burj Khalifa in Dubai is 828 metres high. Judging by the volume of reserves, it is the third biggest deposit of porphyry ores in the world and the third in the northern hemisphere.  Bingham ore contains in average 0.6 of copper.

The volume of production

5 billion tonnes of material was mined since the beginning of mining until 1993. More than 12 million tonnes of copper was obtained. Copper of value eight times higher than the value of gold mined during the Klondike and California gold rushes. According to estimates from 2004, since 1906, 17 million tonnes of copper, 386 thousand tonnes of molybdenum, 5,900 tonnes of silver, and 715 tonnes of gold, were mined. The obtained copper covers twenty percent of the American market. Approximately 1 million tonnes of sulphuric acid is created every year as a by-product of melting. Around two thirds of all the minerals in Utah come from this mine.

Source: Lomy a těžba