My view: Kennecott's 'Cornerstone Project'

By Kelly Sanders

Published: Monday, Jan. 10 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Six months ago, we announced a plan for Kennecott Utah Copper's future. The plan, called the Cornerstone Project, requires changes in our operation and a public process to extend the life of the Bingham Canyon Mine beyond 2028. This is a long-term plan to sustain the operation — thereby continuing to employ 2,400 Utahns and an additional 14,800 external jobs that rely on Kennecott's operation while contributing nearly $1 billion into Utah's economy, annually. To implement the plan, Kennecott must update some environmental permits and reinvest several years of profits in modernizing our operations to remain competitive in the global market place.

Our air, land and water permit updates require regulatory review and approval with public involvement. The regulatory process provides numerous opportunities for the public to provide feedback. You can be involved in the process through the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (UDEQ) at www.deq.utah.gov.

Kennecott will also continue to inform the community about our activities. We are hosting 10 Cornerstone Project community open houses in January and February. We invite you to attend to learn more about Kennecott's long-term plan and our environmental commitments. The list of dates and locations is available at www.kennecott.com.

This plan will impact the United States copper supply. In 2009, Kennecott produced 25 percent of this supply, a supply that is critical to the economy and our way of life. Green technology such as hybrid cars, solar panels and wind turbines are highly dependent on copper — as are electrical, high-tech and plumbing products. Mining does alter the landscape and, like other industries, creates pollution and waste products — but many of the comforts of modern life are not possible without these basic commodities. At Kennecott, we are working to achieve a long-term balance.

Since we introduced the Cornerstone Project to the public last summer, we initiated the process with state regulators to review and update two permits. In August, we submitted a permit modification request to the UDEQ to modify the Mine's air quality permit. This includes converting to more fuel-efficient, cleaner-burning haul trucks and implementing effective dust control measures, while requesting approval to move more rock.

In December, we submitted another request to UDEQ to upgrade our power plant. Since we hope to move and crush more rock, we'll need more power for new equipment. We've studied ways to secure that power and believe we've arrived at a plan for what is best for continued operation, our community and the environment. Our plan is to replace three coal-fired power units with a new natural gas-fired turbine system that will produce more power. Investment from our parent company, Rio Tinto, is contingent on receiving approvals from regulators.

Once the new natural gas-fired system is running, the emissions from the power plant will drop Kennecott's total emissions by 20 percent — which is equivalent to removing 1 in 10 cars from the road in Salt Lake and Utah counties. In addition to this improvement, Kennecott currently generates 13 percent of our power needs through energy-efficient and alternative sources.

We take our responsibility seriously to meet the needs of our business while meeting the needs of the community. We realize that we must act responsibly, limit our environmental impacts and to reclaim land and water as much as possible. I'm proud to say that Kennecott has a great track record of doing just that, having spent more than a half billion dollars over the past decade to reclaim areas affected by historic mining efforts.

In the coming months, much will be discussed about Kennecott's plans. We invite you to be part of the discussion, visit our website for more information and attend one of our open houses. In addition, the Bingham Canyon Mine and Visitors Center is open April through October. Please take the time in 2011 to see what we do and learn more about the Mine's 108 year operation.

Kelly Sanders is President and CEO of Rio Tinto's Kennecott Utah Copper.

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