Kennecott slide: 165 million tons of earth buries trucks and fuel, leaving environmental cleanup in its wake

Published: Friday, May 3 2013 6:30 p.m. MDT

The view of Kennecott's Bingham Canyon Mine and slide during a press tour Thursday, April 25, 2013. Haul trucks are pushed together at the bottom of the slide.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — In addition to forcing layoffs and reducing production by 50 percent, the massive slide at Kennecott Utah Copper's Bingham Canyon Mine poses an environmental headache for Rio Tinto with everything it buried.

The 165 million tons of earthen material slipped April 10, covering 13 haul trucks and large containers holding 83,000 gallons of diesel fuel. It also buried 13,000 gallons of various types of oil, 5,000 gallons of coolant and grease, and a steel container full of thousands of pounds of explosives.

Kelly Payne, Kennecott Utah Copper's environmental manager, said the company is developing a recovery plan for the material once federal mine regulators give them the green light for access.

In the interim, Payne stressed that Kennecott officials do not believe the material presents a hazard to public health or the environment because it is confined to the bottom of the mine. State regulators with the Division of Environmental Response and Remediation have been briefed and will be involved in the oversight of the cleanup, he added.

Payne said the company doesn't know the condition of the containers full of fuel — if the slide may have ruptured them — but any spilled fuel will be pumped out during the cleanup process.

"We want to get that started as soon as possible," he said.

The material is well below the water table and is not in danger of leaching into any groundwater, Payne added.

Kennecott spokesman Kyle Bennett said there has been some community chatter over why the material was at the bottom of the mine when the company was anticipating there would be a slide.

"We knew there would be a slide, but we did not expect it to go to the extent that it did," Bennett said.

The trucks and fuel were being stockpiled at the bottom of the mine in anticipation that the slide would take out the haul road, cutting off access.

Payne said the company is also monitoring any dust pollution effects that the slide may have caused. On the day the slope collapsed, the company's pollution monitor at Copperton did not detect any unusual levels of dust, he said. Dust that could escape from the tailings impoundment site has been watered.

The slide has reduced mine production by half, and Rio Tinto announced layoffs Thursday as a result.

Bennett said the full extent of how many workers will be impacted is still being addressed and is an issue of negotiation with the union.

Kennecott employs 2,500 people at the Bingham Canyon site, with 800 of those employees concentrated in the actual mining process.

"It is a difficult realization that we have come to," he said. "As a result of production down by 50 percent, we have to cut costs, and many of those costs are people costs. "

Bennett added it would be wrong to assume those cuts would be exclusively focused on mining activity.

"We're looking at people in all different areas," he said.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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