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.


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

Utah Copper Company had its start when Enos Austin 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. Underground mining in the area was begun in 1890, and Daniel C. Jackling and Robert C. Gemmell, both engineers, examined Wall's properties and recommended open-pit mining. In 1898, Samuel Newhouse and Thomas Weir formed the Boston Consolidated Mining Company.

Jackling and Wall formed the Utah Copper Company in 1903, and the company immediately started a pilot mill at Copperton. 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.

In 1907, the Utah Copper mill in Magna started operation. Utah Copper and Boston Consolidated merged in 1910, and in 1915, Kennecott acquired 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. These moves gave Kennecott possession of Braden's El Teniente, 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.

In 1913, in response to labor strikes at Bingham and Tucker led by IWW organizers, Utah Copper hired armed guards led by Axel Steele. The Utah Copper guards protected strikebreakers from IWW violence, and forcefully ran 160 IWW organizers and supporters out of the small town of Tucker, Utah. Steele and some of his men broke up an IWW rally in Salt Lake City by assaulting the speaker on stage.[1]

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

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. 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 the Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada. As the mine in Utah expanded, it subsumed the land on which the town of Bingham was built, and the city ceased to exist in 1971.

In 1981, a world-wide 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.

Today, as the second largest copper producer in the United States, Kennecott Utah Copper provides about 18-25% percent of the U.S.'s copper needs.[2] Kennecott’s Bingham Canyon Mine is one of the largest man-made excavations in the world.[3] It is one of the top producing copper mines in the world with cumulative production at more than 19 million tons of copper.[2] 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.[2] Since Rio Tinto purchased Kennecott Utah Copper in 1989 it has invested about $2 billion in the modernization of KUC’s operations. KUC has also spent more than $350 million on the cleanup of historic mining waste and $100 million on groundwater cleanup. Rio Tinto directly employs 2,000 people and contributes to more than 14,000 indirect Utah jobs.[4]

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.[4]

Environmental relations[edit]

Exterior of Kennecott waste pond near the Great Salt Lake

Significant groundwater contamination exists in the aquifer downgradient of the Bingham Canyon mining operations. 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,[5] (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.[6]

KUC is considering alternatives that will keep the Bingham Canyon Mine open for additional decades. The open pit operations are currently projected to extend to 2016. 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.[7]

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.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gibbs M. Smith, Joe Hill, (Salt Lake: University of Utah Press, 2009) 116-120.
  2. ^ a b c "2011 Sustainable Development Report" (pdf). Kennecott Utah Copper. Rio Tinto. 2012. Retrieved 16 November 2015. 
  3. ^ "Bingham Canyon mine is the largest man-made excavation on earth. - Image". Mining Technology. 2011-06-15. Retrieved 2013-09-16. 
  4. ^ a b "Rio Tinto Kennecott reduces local workforce". Kennecott Utah Copper. South Jordan, UT: Rio Tinto. 4 November 2015. Retrieved 16 November 2015. 
  5. ^ "Kennecott's South End" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-09-16. 
  6. ^ Els, Frik (11 November 2014). "Bingham Canyon rebuilds after landslide". Retrieved 16 November 2015. 
  7. ^ "Mine Expansion". Kennecott Utah Copper. Rio Tinto. Retrieved 16 November 2015. 
  8. ^ "Crossing at Daybreak". KSL. May 5, 2011. Retrieved 3 January 2014. 

External links[edit]

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