When two of the world biggest mining companies rub shoulders, it’s the ground that caves in. Resolution Copper Mine, a joint venture between Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, formed to develop and operate a colossal underground copper mine near Superior, Arizona, U.S has gotten one of its biggest breakthrough’s that, upon approval of the remaining items will pave way for what will be United States of America’s biggest game changer in wiring its electric and global automobile industry. The project targets a deep-seated porphyry copper deposit located under the now inactive Magma Mine. The new copper project in Arizona, one of the world’s largest untapped copper deposits in the world is projected to have enough metal potentially matching a quarter of the U.S. demand billed to producing 40 billion pounds of copper over a 40 year-period.
Its apparent, the electric vehicle frenzy has taken over and the world of mining is upside down for seasoned miners as they try to adjust their footprints into non-traditional metals to suit the future global commodity needs, and, copper is the hot metal. Resolution Copper, 55% owned by Rio Tinto and 45% by BHP, has spent years waiting for clearance from U.S. authorities to develop the underground mine.
The company has spent over US$1 Billion to date in developing detailed Mine Plan of Operation (MPO), a document that detail every aspect of the mining operation and their impacts as part of the rigorous Federal Review Process. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process led by the United States Forest Service (USFS) involves reviews by other states and federal agencies like the environmental protection agency. NEPA will be expected to release their final which will inform the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and the next steps in the permitting process for the project.
Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act will require the MPO to comply with legislation relating to all Native American cultural and religious sites as governed by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, National Historic Preservation Act, American Antiquities Act. The NEPA permitting process spanned over six years and led by the United States Forest Service included among other things public engagement which began in 2013. The in-depth review lays out the environmental challenges, solutions to them and benefits of the mine and is part of the final regulatory phase the project needs to clear. In a bid to protect its social license to operate, Resolution project team is working with policy makers, regulators, businesses, leaders, Native American tribes, environmental advocates and the local community to develop the project safely and in a way that protects the area’s unique environment and cultural heritage to which a final decision will be issued at the end of the process only can then a final MPO be issued by the USFS. Resolution commercial mining cannot begin until this is complete.
Resolution will be the deepest block cave (~2km deep) and one of the hottest underground mines in the world (76° to 82° Celsius). This will be achieved by extending an existing shaft, developed for the historic Magma mine, from its current depth of 1.5km to 2.1km depth. This is a highly complex and challenging mining activity due to space restriction, potential excessive groundwater and poor ventilation. As such the operation will be one of the most sophisticated and technologically advanced mining operations in the world. However, the financial benefits are strikingly tantalizing as the project is projected to generate over US$61.4 Billion dollars in economic value over its entire Life of Mine (LOM).
The project according to Rio Tinto will generate sustainable benefits for Arizona, creating several thousand direct and indirect jobs (~ 3700). A tailings storage facility of footprint occupying from 2,300 to 5,900 acres, depending on the location and embankment design will be required and pipelines will be constructed to transport the tailings waste from the ore processing facility to the tailing’s storage facility.
The project will be undertaken in three distinct phases:
1) Construction (10 years),
2) Production (40–50 years), and
3) Reclamation (5–10 years).
Upon the end of LOM closure and reclamation in compliance with permit conditions will be undertaken. The estimated total quantity of external water needed for the life of the mine (construction through closure and reclamation) is substantial and will vary significantly depending on the final design assumed.
“Achieving this significant milestone in the rigorous US permitting process allows us to continue progressing one of the world’s most significant untapped copper deposits towards development. Resolution has the potential to supply up to 25% of the United States’ copper demand and complements Rio Tinto’s other copper projects.
Long-term copper fundamentals remain strong—with supply challenged and demand driven by the adoption of electric vehicles, the electrification of industry and a growing share of renewables in the energy mix. Rio Tinto will be well positioned to benefit from this demand outlook and to provide North American manufacturers with the materials that are essential to their products.”
— Arnaud Soirat Rio Tinto Chief Executive Copper & Diamonds
Rio Tinto and BHP will have spent more than $2 billion to develop and permit the project by 2020, which is the deadline for the Forest Service to produce a final environmental impact survey