Kennecott Utah Copper

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Bingham Canyon in 1942

Kennecott Utah Copper LLC (KUC), a division of Rio Tinto Group, is a mining, smelting, and refining company. Its corporate headquarters are located in South Jordan, Utah, USA. Kennecott operates the Bingham Canyon Mine, one of the largest open-pit copper mines in the world in Bingham Canyon, Salt Lake County, Utah. The company was first formed in 1898 as the Boston Consolidated Mining Company. The current corporation was formed in 1989. The mine and associated smelter produce 1% of the world's copper.[1]


Kennecott Utah Copper's Garfield Smelter, with Interstate 80 in the foreground

Utah Copper Company had its start when Enos Andrew Wall realized the potential of copper deposits in Bingham Canyon, 15 miles (24 km) southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah in 1887 and acquired claims to the land and started underground mining. In the mid-1890s, metallurgist Daniel C. Jackling and mining engineer Robert C. Gemmell inspected the property and liked the prospects.[2][3]

Both men examined Wall's properties and recommended open-pit mining. In 1898, Samuel Newhouse and Thomas Weir formed the Boston Consolidated Mining Company.[3]

Jackling and Wall formed the Utah Copper Company on 4 June 1903, with Charles L. Tutt, Sr., Charles MacNeill, Spencer Penrose, Boies Penrose, Tal Penrose, and Dr. R.A.F. Penrose as investors. MacNeill was named president, Spencer "Speck" Penrose was named secretary-treasurer, and Jackling was named general manager. The company immediately started a pilot mill at Copperton.[2]

With financing from Guggenheim Exploration, the first digging began in 1906. The same year, the Kennecott Mines Company was formed in Alaska, named after explorer and naturalist Robert Kennicott. A smelter was also started at Garfield by the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) to refine the Bingham ore.[3]

In 1907, the Utah Copper mill in Magna started operation. Utah Copper and Boston Consolidated merged in 1910, and in 1915, Kennecott acquired a 25% interest in the company. In 1915, to dilute the railroad's cost and find new ventures for the capital produced by the Alaskan mine, Kennecott Copper Corporation was incorporated out of the various financial interests involved. By this time, the Guggenheims were already actively working copper mines in Chile and Utah. Upon Kennecott's creation, they merged their Braden Copper Co. property in Chile, as well as 25 percent of the Utah Copper Co., into Kennecott.[3]

These moves gave Kennecott possession of Braden's El Teniente,[2]:108 the world's largest underground mine, in the Chilean Andes. The Bingham and Garfield Railway opened in 1911 to transport the ore, replacing the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad's line. In 1936, Kennecott acquired all the assets of the Utah Copper Company.[3]

During World War II, Bingham set new world records for copper mining and produced about 30% of the copper used by the Allies. Many women worked in the mines, mills, and smelters.[4]

On September 9, 1949 three company officers were killed in an airplane bombing known as the Albert Guay Affair in Quebec: the retiring president E.T. Stannard; his designated successor, Arthur D. Storke; and R.J. Parker, a vice-president. The three men were passengers on a flight on which Guay had shipped a timed-explosive device in the luggage of his then-wife, killing her and all others on the plane. Charles Cox, formerly head of Carnegie-Illinois Steel, was hired shortly after to fill the executive vacuum.

By 1961, Kennecott's copper mines included four large open pits in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada. As the mine in Utah expanded, it subsumed the land on which the City of Bingham Canyon was built, and the city was disincorporated in 1971.[3][5]

In 1981, a worldwide fall in copper prices brought about the acquisition of Kennecott by Standard Oil of Ohio (SOHIO). Production was interrupted from 1985 to 1987. In the latter year, British Petroleum acquired SOHIO, and Kennecott became part of BP Minerals America. In 1989 Rio Tinto Zinc (RTZ) purchased mining assets from BP. Kennecott Utah Copper Corporation was formed by Rio Tinto in 1989 as a new mining company under the laws of the State of Utah.

Current Operations[edit]

Today, the second-largest copper producer in the US, Kennecott Utah Copper provides about 18-25% of US copper needs.[6] Kennecott’s Bingham Canyon Mine is one of the largest man-made excavations in the world.[7] It is one of the top producing copper mines in the world with cumulative production over 19 million tons of copper.[6] In 2011, Kennecott produced approximately 237,000 tons of copper, along with 379,000 troy ounces of gold, 3.2 million troy ounces of silver, about 30 million pounds of molybdenum, and about 1 million tons of sulfuric acid, a by-product of the smelting process.[6] Since Rio Tinto purchased Kennecott Utah Copper in 1989 it has invested about $2 billion in the modernization of KUC’s operations. Rio Tinto directly employs 2,000 people and contributes to more than 14,000 indirect Utah jobs.[8]

Rio Tinto Group, one of the world's largest mining operations, comprises dual-listed companies Rio Tinto Limited (based in Melbourne) and Rio Tinto PLC (based in London). Although each company trades separately, the two Rio Tintos operate as one business.[8]


KUC is considering alternatives that will keep the Bingham Canyon Mine open for additional decades. A massive rock slide at the mine in 2014 did not stop Rio’s plans to extend the mine’s life by another decade to 2029.[9] The company says there’s still as much ore in the ground as miners have taken out of Bingham Canyon since it began production in 1906. The company proposes to expand the mine and reach an additional 700 million tons of ore resource by pushing back the south wall of the Bingham Canyon Mine 1,000 feet and deepening it 300 feet.[10]

Environmental relations[edit]

Kennecott tailings dam near the Great Salt Lake[11]

Significant groundwater contamination exists in the aquifer downgradient of the Bingham Canyon mining operations. Starting in the late 1980s, the State of Utah Natural Resource Damage Trustee has overseen the investigation of mining-influenced groundwater and the implementation of cleanup actions performed by Kennecott and the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District to address two groundwater plumes located in southwest Salt Lake County. The plumes were caused by historical mining practices in the Kennecott South Zone.[12] Approximately 80 square miles (210 km2) are impacted in the southwest portion of Salt Lake County. Because of the remediation efforts, which include more than a $100 million investment in a reverse osmosis facility, Kennecott's South End,[13] (location of the contaminated aquifer) was removed from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Priorities List (NPL). This investment represents one of many remediation projects along the Oquirrh Mountains to clean up historic mining sites. To date, Kennecott Utah Copper has remediated more than 10,000 acres (40 km2) of the total 40,000 acres (160 km2) impacted by mining at a cost of more than $450 million.[14] KUC has spent more than $350 million on the cleanup of historic mining waste and $100 million on groundwater cleanup.

Kennecott's copper mine concentrators, power plant and smelter is the leading facility for toxic releases in the state of Utah, according to a 2017 report by the US Environmental Protection Agency.[15] The company's combined operations are believed to account for 3.5 percent of Salt Lake Valley's air pollution, according to Utah Department of Air Quality statistics.[16] Editorialists continue to criticize Kennecott for the amount of lead the smelter puts into the air each year: 6,250 pounds.[17]

Environmental groups have lauded Rio Tinto’s decision to drop its requested permit for a new rock crushing plant at the copper mine. Kennecott originally wanted the crusher to shore up a mine-waste pond. Kennecott now says it can keep mining without expanding its tailings impoundment.[18]

Land development[edit]

Another Rio Tinto-owned company manages the non-mining land and water assets previously owned by KUC, Kennecott Land Company. Kennecott Land was established by Rio Tinto in April 2001 to develop surplus mining land. Daybreak Community, the first part of the process, is situated on 4,126 acres (16.70 km2) in the city of South Jordan where 20,000 homes and up to 14,000,000 square feet (1,300,000 m2) of commercial space are planned. Opened in 2009, Daybreak's first commercial center, SoDa Row, contains a boutique, restaurants, hair salon and more.[19]

Labor relations[edit]

During the copper strike of 1912 Utah Copper Company brought many Mexican and Mexican American strikebreakers to the Bingham mine. Most of them did not remain after the settlement of the strike. Company records reveal that by 1918-19 large numbers of Spanish-surnamed individuals began to be employed at the mine, and additional Latinos were recruited during the labor shortages of WWII. For many of these men it marked the beginning of long careers as copper workers. Issues of the company magazine 'Kennescope' in the 1950s emphasized the diversity of the work force. In 1953 there were 20 ethnic backgrounds, from Native American to Japanese.[20]

Kennecott laid off 200 workers in March 2016 due to a fall in global commodity prices.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Romboy, Dennis. "Kennecott landslide impacts global copper industry, Utah economy". Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  2. ^ a b c Charles Caldwell Hawley (2014). A Kennecott Story. The University of Utah Press. pp. 38–39.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Cononelos, Louis J.; Notarianni, Philip F. (1994), "Kennecott Corporation", in Powell, Allan Kent (ed.), Utah History Encyclopedia, Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, ISBN 0874804256, OCLC 30473917
  4. ^ "Utah History Encyclopedia". 1961.
  5. ^ "City of Bingham Canyon". Utah Division of State Archives. Salt Lake City, UT. 2 July 2003. Retrieved 5 May 2017.
  6. ^ a b c "2011 Sustainable Development Report" (PDF). Kennecott Utah Copper. Rio Tinto. 2012. Archived from the original (pdf) on 19 September 2015. Retrieved 16 November 2015. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  7. ^ "Bingham Canyon mine is the largest man-made excavation on earth. - Image". Mining Technology. 2011-06-15. Retrieved 2013-09-16.
  8. ^ a b "Rio Tinto Kennecott reduces local workforce". Kennecott Utah Copper. South Jordan, UT: Rio Tinto. 4 November 2015. Retrieved 16 November 2015.
  9. ^ "Rio Tinto's Kennecott wins clean air lawsuit in the US |". 2016-06-09. Retrieved 2017-06-04.
  10. ^ "Mine Expansion". Kennecott Utah Copper. Rio Tinto. Retrieved 16 November 2015.
  11. ^ "Five-Year Review Report Kennecott North Zone Superfund Site" (PDF). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2014. Retrieved 22 April 2016.
  12. ^ "Utah Dept of Environmental Quality". Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  13. ^ "Kennecott's South End" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-09-16.
  14. ^ Els, Frik (11 November 2014). "Bingham Canyon rebuilds after landslide". Retrieved 16 November 2015.
  15. ^ "EPA report details toxic releases for US, Utah |". Retrieved 2017-05-20.
  16. ^ Tribune, Brian Maffly The Salt Lake. "Air quality advocates: Utah should rethink Kennecott rock crushing plant". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 2016-04-22.
  17. ^ Moench, Brian. "Moench: Legislature dawdles while our children absorb lead and other toxins". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 2016-04-23.
  18. ^ Fahys, Judy. "Kennecott Scraps Permit, Cuts Added Pollution". Retrieved 2016-04-23.
  19. ^ "Crossing at Daybreak". KSL. May 5, 2011. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
  20. ^ "Latinos at the Kennecott Copper Mine". Retrieved 2016-04-22.
  21. ^ Lee, Jasen. "Kennecott laying off 200 workers". Retrieved 2016-03-06.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°32′50″N 112°00′13″W / 40.5473°N 112.0035°W / 40.5473; -112.0035