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Few answers in Bingham Mine slide as impact weighed

Published April 12, 2013 9:01 pm

Mining • Inspectors await stability in pit before production can resume; MSHA engineers expected on-site Monday.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Bingham Canyon Mine remains closed more than two days after a huge landslide occurred within its pit, leaving unclear when full operations might resume.

Rio Tinto's Kennecott Utah Copper, which operates the mine, is calling the size of the slide "significant," while the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) labels it a "large massive ground fall." Neither Rio Tinto or MSHA have specific information yet about its magnitude or full extent of its impact.

The company had been monitoring movement along the copper pit's northeast wall — called the Manefay fault system area — since February and evacuated all personnel from the mine more than 12 hours before the slide Wednesday night. But a company statement Friday acknowledged that the slide was larger than expected.

"We do know that the flow into the pit extended beyond the scenarios we forecasted, having a greater impact on equipment," the statement reads. "We are confirming there was some damage to equipment and to a building structure in the mine."

There were no injuries.

A Kennecott official on Thursday said there was enough ore and concentrate on hand to continue to produce refined copper for several weeks.

Company spokesman Kyle Bennett said Friday that about 800 employees work in the mine and that the company has set up a hotline for them to receive updates.

Although all employees have been asked to report for work on their shifts, the mine will remain closed until MSHA inspectors and the company's geotechnical experts have deemed it stable.

MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere said MSHA personnel are on-site, adding that no one has been inside the mine since Wednesday morning.

MSHA technical support engineers are scheduled to arrive Monday to assess the area.

Louviere said MSHA had been aware of the slide-site's instability since February was alerted to the slide Wednesday at 10:27 p.m. by Kennecott.

"When it comes to the safety of people, there are no shortcuts," Bennett said. "We continue to cooperate with (MSHA) in every way."

Bennett would not speculate on how long it will take for the mine to reopen, but said the slide was completely contained within the mine.

"We had a lot of rain that day that helped reduce dust (from the slide)," he said. "There were no impacts on the surrounding community."

jnpearce@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jnpearce —

What is known

The breadth of the slide was larger than anticipated.

There was unexpected damage to equipment and a building.

All employees have been asked to report for work on their shifts.

The mine will remain closed until inspectors have deemed it stable.