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Evacuated Kennecott workers return to work after small slide

Published: Thursday, July 30 2015 11:52 p.m. MDT

Work resumed Thursday at Kennecott Utah Copper's Bingham Canyon Mine after ground movement Wednesday displaced a football field-sized section of earth. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Work resumed Thursday at Kennecott Utah Copper's Bingham Canyon Mine after ground movement Wednesday displaced a football field-sized section of earth. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

BINGHAM CANYON — Work resumed Thursday at Kennecott Utah Copper's Bingham Canyon Mine after ground movement Wednesday displaced a football field-sized section of earth.

The movement, which occurred in the area of April's massive landslide, was detected early, allowing officials to evacuate roughly 100 employees from the area.

All employees scheduled to work Thursday reported for duty, Kennecott spokesman Kyle Bennett said, though many were reassigned to other areas of the mine as a precaution. Work has been halted on the bottom portion of the slide area.

"Our goal is to get back to work as soon as we can safely do so," Bennett said.

The mine was running a limited operation on the bottom portion of the mine Thursday, with full operations expected to resume around 6 p.m., he said.

A slide at Kennecott Utah Copper's Bingham Canyon Mine which occurred Wednesday, April 10 is shown Thursday, April 11, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) A slide at Kennecott Utah Copper's Bingham Canyon Mine which occurred Wednesday, April 10 is shown Thursday, April 11, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Kennecott's geotechnical experts are working with evaluators from the Mine Safety and Health Administration to assess the condition of the mine, Bennett said. It is not yet known what caused Wednesday's movement, he said, but no further shifts have occurred.

"We don’t anticipate at this time that conditions will prevent us from progressing on our work," Bennett said. "When they feel confident that there’s not a safety risk for our people, when they make that decision, we will go back to work in the lower portions of the mine."

In April, a 165 million-ton landslide halted production at the Bingham Canyon Mine, prompting employee layoffs and a sharp cutback on production. Bennett said officials initially estimated the mine would suffer a 50 percent reduction in output as a result of the slide, but so far work has slightly exceeded that estimate.

A landslide at Kennecott Utah Copper's Bingham Canyon Mine, which occurred Wednesday, April 10, 2013, is shown Thursday, April 11, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) A landslide at Kennecott Utah Copper's Bingham Canyon Mine, which occurred Wednesday, April 10, 2013, is shown Thursday, April 11, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

The slide is also expected to have an impact on Salt Lake County tax revenue, as decreased production translates into decreased sales of Kennecott outputs.

Robert Reed, associate budget administrators for the Salt Lake County mayor's financial administration, said he could not disclose the specifics of Kennecott's tax information but described the impact on county revenue as substantial.

"It’s large enough that it’s not budget dust," Reed said. "We have to adjust our revenue projections based on this."

Bennett said there is no concern about further ground movement related to the coming winter snow season, but workers will continue to monitor for indications of shifting or unstable terrain.

"Our folks are all highly trained to note their surroundings," he said. "We're used to working in those types of conditions where we have winds and we have snow."

A landslide at Kennecott Utah Copper's Bingham Canyon Mine, which occurred Wednesday, April 10, 2013, is shown Thursday, April 11, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) A landslide at Kennecott Utah Copper's Bingham Canyon Mine, which occurred Wednesday, April 10, 2013, is shown Thursday, April 11, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Wayne Holland, international staff representative for United Steel Workers, said workers union representatives have also been in contact with Kennecott and Mine Safety and Health Administration officials.

Holland said indications so far suggest policy was followed in response to Wednesday night's movement and officials are working to address the safety of workers.

"We will continue those communications on a daily basis to make sure that, at every step of the way, safety is the main concern," Holland said. "If we can’t safely operate the area we’re in now, the (Mine Safety and Health Administration) representatives will advise us."

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com Twitter: bjaminwood

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