SOUTH JORDAN, Utah — A slide at Kennecott Utah Copper’s Bingham Canyon Mine forced the company to evacuate its employees.
The slide occurred at the mine’s northeast wall at 9:30 Wednesday night. Sophisticated geotechnical monitoring equipment helped the company predict the slide, which prompted them to move workers and equipment out of the area well in advance.
“We’ve watched this movement accelerate over the coming weeks. We’ve taken a number of really important steps to maintain the highest level of production that we can. We’ve moved facilities into other locations, heavy machinery into other locations. We’ve rerouted roads and we’ve rerouted utilities,” said Kyle Bennett, spokesman for Kennecott Utah Copper.
Movement along the northeast wall was first detected in February, when it shifted one-twentieth of an inch. Employees said the shifting had advanced to eight inches per day just before the slide.
Scientists at the University of Utah seismology center said that if the slide were an earthquake, it would have measured at a 2.4.
Rio Tinto is one of Utah’s largest employers, with 2,700 direct employees and around 15,000 additional contractors.
Officials from the mine say very few of those employees are affected so far, but they’re still in the early stages of figuring out the complexities of the landslide and how it will impact operations going forward.
“We don’t know right now what that impact might be,” Himebaugh said. “It takes a number of days and even weeks before the downstream plants process all the materials they have.”
As a result of the movement detected at the mine, Kennecott closed the visitors center on April 1. It will not be open again this year, according to a statement on their website.
“We look forward to offering an experience that demonstrates the importance of mining and our commitment to the environment and community next year,” the statement said.
All of Kennecott’s employees are safe and accounted for. The Bingham Canyon Mine has the nation’s best mine safety record and is the world’s largest man-made pit.