Kennecott mine trying to recover from landslide

Posted at 5:32 PM, Apr 25, 2013
and last updated 2013-04-25 20:45:28-04

BINGHAM CANYON MINE -- The slide is massive, stretching nearly three-quarters of a mile from a ridge line into the bottom of the pit.

The landslide that hit the Bingham Canyon Mine two weeks ago is one of the largest landslides in mining history, Kennecott Utah Copper officials said Thursday. The company offered reporters a closer look at the slide's aftermath, as Kennecott executives announced a plan to return to operations.

"We're still assessing and planning the recovery process," said Kelly Sanders, Kennecott Utah CEO.

The company announced a four-month plan to get back in operation, including carving a new road to the bottom of the pit. Ore production is already under way in other parts of the massive mine.

Company officials said the slide was anticipated, but it exceeded many predictions about how big it would be.

"We knew in the hours before the event that it was going to occur," said Matt Lengerich, the general manager of the Bingham Canyon Mine. "We were able to remove people before the slide occurred."

Kennecott Utah Copper lost 14 giant haulers and a shovel -- at a cost of millions of dollars. They are buried at the bottom of the pit and it is unknown if they will be salvageable.

The slide itself is believed to have been caused as a result of the day-to-day open-pit mining operations and gravity, Lengerich said.

"We know that this is part of mining, and it's one of the reasons we have so many sophisticated systems in place," he said.

The impact is already being felt. The company has announced that production for 2013 has been cut by 50-percent. Employees have been asked to take unpaid time off or burn some vacation time. Kennecott Utah Copper employs 2,500 at all of its sites; about 500 work at the Bingham Canyon Mine.

"It's probably too soon to speculate on the size of the impact, but it will be significant and it really depends on how quickly we're able to get the operations back to normal and get people back to work," said Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, who also toured the mine on Thursday.

Sanders told FOX 13 the company will have to make some "tough financial decisions," but he would not speculate on layoffs.

"With a 50 percent reduction in our production this year, we obviously have to take efforts to reduce our costs and we're working through the plan to determine what those actions might be," he said.