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Rosemont Copper is the name of a proposed new and large open pit copper mine project pursued by the Canadian mining corporation Hudbay Minerals. It is in a permitting review process under the direction of the United States Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The project site is located within the Santa Rita Mountains and Coronado National Forest, in Pima County of southern Arizona.
Opponents argue that the mine will pollute surface and subsurface water and damage aquifer quality and quantity, destroy natural habitats and endangering populations of vulnerable and unique wildlife, cause regional air pollution, and harm the local tourism industry.
Proponents argue that the project will create jobs, generate tax revenue and reduce American dependence on foreign sources of copper.
Proposed mining plan
In 2007, Augusta Resource Corporation, Rosemont Copper's parent company, filed a Mine Plan of Operations with the U.S. Forest Service for a proposed open-pit mine in the Santa Rita Mountains section of the Coronado National Forest.
The property contains three mineable copper/molybdenum/silver ("Cu/Mo/Ag") skarn deposits: Rosemont, Peach-Elgin, and Broadtop Butte. Annual production of copper is expected to reach 243 million pounds, which would equal approximately 10% of total U.S. copper production. The mine is expected to produce 5.4 million pounds of molybdenum each year along with 2.9 million ounces of silver and 17,000 ounces of gold.
The Mine Plan of Operations contains details about all manners of the project, including the location of access roads, water conservation, open-pit plans, ore processing and transport, production schedule, drilling patterns, waste rock storage, air quality and dust control methods and land reclamation. It is currently under review by the United States Forest Service.
Location, land status and mineral rights
The Rosemont Copper property is located in Pima County, approximately 30 miles southeast of Tucson. It straddles two historic mining districts: the Rosemont Mining District and the adjacent Helvetia Mining District. The property coordinates are approximately 31° 50′ N and 110° 45′ W.
Copper became the focus of mining in the Santa Cruz Valley and elsewhere in Southern Arizona beginning in the late 1880s. By 1907, Southern Arizona led world copper production. Sporadic prospecting reportedly began in the northwestern portion of the Rosemont property, in the Helvetia Mining District, in the mid-1800s. Production from mines on both sides of the northern Santa Rita Mountains brought forth construction and operation of the Columbia Smelter at Helvetia on the west side of the Santa Rita Mountains and the Rosemont Smelter in the Rosemont Mining District on the east side of the Santa Rita Mountains.
Copper production ceased in 1951. In the decades since, the area continued to be the site of successive exploration efforts. In 1956, the American Exploration and Mining Company began exploring the Broadtop Butte prospect. Banner Mining Company acquired most of the claims in the area by the late 1950s. Anaconda Mining Company acquired the claims to the property in 1963 and undertook a major exploration campaign that identified the Rosemont deposit as a major porphyry copper ore body. The company also advanced the Broadtop Butte and Peach-Elgin prospects. The project continued after Amax and Anaconda formed the Anamax partnership and ceased in 1986 when Anamax sold the property to a real estate company during the dissolution of Anaconda. ASARCO purchased the property in 1988, renewed exploration of the Peach-Elgin prospect and initiated engineering studies. ASARCO sold the entire property to real estate interests in 2004. Augusta acquired the Rosemont Property in 2005.
The core of the Rosemont property consists of 132 patented lode claims that encompass an area of 1,968 acres. A patented mining claim is one for which the federal government has passed its title to the claimant, making it private land. A contiguous package of 850 unpatented lode mining claims with an aggregate area of approximately 12,000 ac surrounds the core of patented claims. An unpatented mine claim is one in which land is essentially leased from the government for the purpose of extracting minerals. Most of the unpatented claims are on federal land administered by the United States Forest Service. In addition, a limited number of claims in the northwest portion of the Property are on federal land administered by the Bureau of Land Management.
Reserves and resources
Rosemont has proven and probable reserves of 5.9 billion lbs of copper and 194 million lbs of molybdenum and inferred sulfide mineral resources of 1.1 billion lbs of copper and 35 million lbs of molybdenum.
The regional, local and property geology of the Rosemont deposit consists of Precambrian sedimentary and intrusive rocks, which form the regional basement under a Palaeozoic sequence of quartzites, siltstones, and carbonate rocks. Sedimentary deposition ceased for a time during uplift and formation of a widespread unconformity in the early Mesozoic, and then resumed with the deposition of continental and shallow marine deposits.
Subsequent granitic intrusions and felsic volcanic eruptions dominated the late Mesozoic and early Cenozoic, corresponding to the Laramide Orogeny when most of the porphyry copper deposits of the region formed. Compressional tectonics during the Laramide Orogeny created both low-angle thrust faults and high-angle strike-slip faults. Extensional tectonic activity followed the Laramide Orogeny and was accompanied by voluminous felsic volcanic eruptions. Numerous low-angle normal faults formed during this time. These faults have been particularly important in the Rosemont area. The extensional tectonics eventually produced the large-scale block faulting that produced the present Basin and Range Province throughout the southwestern United States.
Rosemont Copper submitted an initial mine plan in 2006 and then a revised mine plan in July 2007. The official start to Rosemont Copper's National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process began in February 2008. Rosemont Copper has secured the following major permits necessary to begin construction on the proposed mine:
- Aquifer Protection Permit is needed if you own or operate a facility that discharges a pollutant either directly to an aquifer or to the land surface or to the vadose zone (the area between land surface and the water table where the moisture content is less than saturation) in such a manner that there is a reasonable probability that the pollutant will reach an aquifer.
- Construction Storm Water General Permit is required for any point source discharge of pollutants to a water of the United States. Because storm water runoff can transport pollutants to either a municipal separate storm sewer system or to a water of the United States, permits are required for those discharges.
- Agriculture Land Clearing Permit is for any activity that includes the clearing of more than one acre of land and which is not exempt by this ordinance, shall be required to have a Clearing Permit.
- Air Activity Permit PDEQ protects air quality by regulating fugitive dust emissions. The Activity Permit Program ensures that individuals are aware of fugitive dust emissions regulations and requires them to provide information regarding the location and types of activities so the department can monitor compliance.
- Air Quality Permit regulates pollutants to ensure that these emissions do not harm public health or cause significant deterioration in areas that presently have clean air.
- Groundwater Withdrawal Permit is a right to use non-irrigation withdrawals of groundwater equal to the maximum groundwater withdrawal and use for any one year during the five-year period prior to 1980.
- Type 2.02 and 3.03 General Aquifer Protection Permits is for a facility that discharges a pollutant either directly to an aquifer or to the land surface or the vadose zone (the area between an aquifer and the land surface) in such a manner that there is a reasonable probability that the pollutant will reach an aquifer.
- Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Encroachment Permit is a request for transmission lines to a project when no existing lines could serve the purpose.
Rosemont has received the following approvals:
- Arizona Mined Land Reclamation Plan Approval is a plan for post-mining operations to correct the disturbed land used for mining.
- Hazardous Waste Identification Number is the first step in the hazardous waste management system. Correctly determining whether a waste meets the RCRA definition of hazardous waste is essential to determining how the waste must be managed.
As of April 2013, the final permit before mining operations can begin is the Clean Water Act Section 404 permit, issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, which is expected as part of the Forest Service's Record of Decision.
In October 2007, Rosemont Copper submitted the Rosemont Project Mining Plan of Operation to the United States Department of Agriculture and the Coronado National Forest. In March 2008, The Coronado National Forest began their NEPA process, starting with the Environmental Impact Statement.
The Department of Agriculture, Forest Service's website states regarding Rosemont Cooper's Environmental Impact Statement:
Scoping the proposal is the starting point in the Environmental Impact Statement process under NEPA. Over 11,000 scoping comment submissions were received. From scoping, issues were identified and used to develop alternatives to the proposal. Feasible alternatives, which allow the claimant to reasonably exercise their statutory rights and vested property rights in minerals while seeking to minimize adverse environmental impacts on National Forest surface resources, are then described and analyzed in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision will follow once comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement are analyzed and incorporated into the document.
The Draft EIS for Rosemont contained approximately 400 reports on topics such as air quality, water resources, soils and reclamation, and biological resources. A full list of all 400 reports can be viewed on the Forest Service's website.
The public comment period for Rosemont's draft EIS closed on January 31, 2012.
The Coronado National Forest planned to release the Final Environmental Impact Statement in December 2012, but postponed the release to an undisclosed date. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, State Historic Preservation Office, and the Army Corps of Engineers, are still completing their analysis. The Forest Service Southwestern Regional Office released their Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and draft Record of Decision (ROD) for the Rosemont Copper Project on December 13, 2013.
The controversy over the proposed Rosemont Copper mine revolves around potential risks to the environment, with water being the number one concern.
Opposition to the project is led by Save the Scenic Santa Ritas (SSSR) and includes the Center for Biological Diversity, Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Sky Island Alliance, and Tucson Audubon Society.
The Rosemont Copper project has been endorsed by Arizona Builders' Alliance, Alliance of Construction Trades, Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Marana Chamber of Commerce, Southern Arizona Contractors Association, Tucson Utility Contractors Association, Arizona Contractors Association, City of Benson, Southeast Arizona Economic Development Group, and Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce.
Arguments against the proposal
- Open-pit copper mines such as that proposed by Rosemont pollute the air and nearby water supplies with mercury, lead, arsenic or other poisons.
- The economies of the Santa Rita Mountains communities are largely driven by outdoor recreation and tourism. Even modest impact from the Rosemont Mine could discourage tourism to the region, and destroy more than the number of new jobs the mine would create.
- The mine poses a risk to the habitat of the last known living wild jaguar in the United States, El Jefe. Feds Give Approval to Harm Only Known U.S. Jaguar
Arguments in favor of the proposal
- Copper is an essential component of a clean-energy economy. For example, hybrid cars contain twice as much copper as conventional cars.
- The mine would import 105% of the water needed for operations and leave a 5% net water gain to the Tucson Active Management Area basin.
- The used land will be reclaimed from the beginning of the mine's operations.
- A dry-stack tailings storage method will be used to conserve water and keep pollution from seeping into the ground.
- The mine would create a much-needed economic boost to the region, directly employing 400 people for at least 19 years and support 1,700 indirect jobs. Historically, mining jobs are among the highest paying positions in Arizona, and experienced workers in the copper industry in the southwest can earn an average of $59,000 or more per year.
- The project would support ancillary industries – contractors and vendors providing goods and services to the mine operation during the nearly two decades of operation.
- US Forest Service EIS
- Save the Scenic Santa Ritas - Rosemont Arguments, Scenic Santa Ritas
- Rosemont Benefits, Southern Arizona Business Coalition
- Mine Plan of Operations, Augusta Resource
- "Rosemont shows investors new sites", Arizona Daily Star December 8, 2011
- What We Mine, Rosemont Copper Mine
- Mine Plan of Operations, US Forest Service EIS
- Copper Deposits of Part of Helvetia Mining District, Pima County Arizona
- "Mining Booms", Santa Cruz Valley Heritage Alliance
- "Mining Booms", Archaeology Southwest
- "Mine Plan of Operations", Rosemont Copper Mine
- "Mineral Patent Application", Bureau of Land Management
- "Mining Claims", Rosemont Copper Mine
- 2010 Arizona Mining Review, Arizona Geology Magazine, September 22, 2011
- "Higher costs, profits forecast for Rosemont Mine" Arizona Daily Star, September 1, 2012
- Mineral Resources Estimate, US Forest Service EIS
- Geology and Seismotectonic Review, Vector Colorado
- AERMOD Modeling Report to Assess Ambient Air Quality Impacts, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality
- "Aquifer Protection Permit Issued", Arizona Department of Environmental Quality
- Aquifer Protection Permit, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality
- Construction Storm Water General Permit Issued, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality
- Construction Storm Water General Permit, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality
- Agriculture Land Clearing Permit Issued
- Agriculture Land Clearing Permit
- Air Activity Permit Issued, Pima County Department of Environmental Quality
- Air Activity Permit, Pima County Department of Environmental Quality
- Air Quality Permit Issued, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality
- Air Quality Permit, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality
- Groundwater Withdrawal Permit Issued, Arizona Department of Mines and Mineral Resources
- Groundwater Withdrawal Permit, Arizona Department of Mines and Mineral Resources
- Aquifer Protection Permits Issued, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality
- Tucson Electric Power Transmission Line Permits Issued, Arizona Corporation Commission
- Rosemont Ranch Reclamation Plan, Arizona State Mine Inspector
- Arizona Mining Permitting Guide
- Hazardous Waste Identification Number Issued, EPA
- Hazardous Waste Identification Number, EPA
- Arizona Mining Project Wins Crucial Permit, The New York Times Green blog, February 4, 2013
- List of Reports, US Forest Service EIS
- Public Meetings Notice, US Forest Service EIS
- Analysis Continues, US Forest Service EIS
- Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Rosemont Copper Project: A Proposed Mining Operation, Coronado National Forest, Pima County, Arizona. Tucson, AZ: United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southwestern Region, 2013.
- A Clash Over Mining and Water, The New York Times, March 21, 2012
- Analyze Socioeconomic Impacts, Scenic Santa Ritas
- Rosemont Copper Mine would benefit economy and community but is buried in bureaucracy, Tucson Citizen, April 14, 2011
- Support of Rosemont Copper, Arizona Senate
- Groups Opposed to Rosemont Copper, Canyon Echo
- Builders group endorses Rosemont Mine, Arizona Daily Star, January 27, 2011
- Construction Trade Group Among Endorsers of Rosemont Mine, Arizona Public Media, March 17, 2011
- Tucson Hispanic Chamber Endorses Rosemont Copper, May 16, 2011
- Tucson Chamber supports Rosemont copper mine, Inside Tucson Business, July 2, 2010
- Chamber Alliance Urges Rosemont Process Move Forward, Tucson Chamber, February 1, 2012
- The Arizona Contractors Association Supports Rosemont Copper Mine in Southern Arizona, June 10, 2010
- Builders group lines up in favor of mine, Arizona Daily Star, January 28, 2011
- Chamber concerned by threat, San Pedro Valley News-Sun, June 9, 2010
- Rosemont Copper Mine Project, Southeast Arizona Economic Development Group Blog, September 13, 2011
- Remaining Permits and Decisions Needed by Rosemont, April 2013
- Economic Impacts of the Proposed Rosemont Mine, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas
- "Rare footage of jaguar in the Santa Rita Mountains outside Tucson" (video). Los Angeles Times.
- Center for Biological Diversity.org: "Rosemont Mine would destroy El Jefe's home and severely hamstring recovery of jaguars in the United States" . accessed 8 May 2016.
- Tony Davis, (May 7, 2016). "Imperiled wildlife can live with Rosemont, US report says". Arizona Daily Star. Accessed 8 May 2016.
- The Environmental Protection Agency Comes-a-Copper, Forbes, May 12, 2011
- Initial Two-Year Water Supply Already Stored for Augusta's Rosemont Copper, Augusta Resource Press Release, June 28, 2007
- Supporting the Rosemont Copper Mine in Southern Arizona, Arizona State Legislature
- Tucsons News Now voices support for Rosemont Copper Mine, The More You Dig, June 26, 2012
- Pima County's other new copper mine: Any problems for Oracle Ridge?, Southern Arizona News-Examiner. June 12, 2012
- Construction industry rallies to support Rosemont mine proposal, Inside Tucson Business October 21, 2011
- How the EPA Sticks Miners With a Motherlode of Regulation: The years-long wait for mining permits in the U.S. is the worst in the world. Op-ed at Wall Street Journal, Jan. 3, 2014. Article notes Rosemont Copper got its operating permit from the U.S. Forest Service Dec.13, 2013 -- but now must get permits from the Environmental Protection Agency, the "most formidable governmental hurdle." The permitting process for Rosemont has taken 7.5 years so far; the average time to get a mine permitted in the U.S. is a worst-in-the-world seven-to-10 years.
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