Yesterday I attended the Gila County Supervisors meeting in Globe. After the normal business was completed there was a presentation by John Main, president of Kennecott Exploration Company.
The general message was copper is not dead in Arizona. This is the best news I have heard in a long time. As things stand now, there is precious little for the aspiring young man, or woman to do in rural Arizona. In a county like Gila, with less than 3 percent of the land being private, if someone is going to do something productive it almost has to be in public land.
The professional environmentalists have closed the forests, and are rapidly pushing the cattlemen out. This leaves mining, and mining has fast been slipping away.
Mr. Main's message offers the possibility of changing that. Kennecott Exploration, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, a profitable, international mining company, has been doing exploratory drilling in property they purchased from BHP (Magma).
The problem (and opportunity) is that the top of the deposit is 4,500 feet below the surface. Magma, who mined above it, knew it was there, but it was only of academic interest, because a few years ago there was no way to get to it. The reason it is worth going after is that it contains about three times as much copper per ton of ore, as the run-of-mine ore in the past, in the Globe-Superior area.
The current projections are that there are something over 1/2 billion tons of ore in the deposit, capable of producing 300,000-350,000 tons of copper per year, or roughly 10 percent of America's annual copper requirements. So, it can be a significant operation.
Incidentally, about 50 percent of America's copper requirements are currently being imported.
This whole project is far from a done deal, and if it comes to fruition it is probably 10 years down the road. The deposit itself is in Pinal County, adjacent to the Gila County line. The processing and smelting operations could be in either county, or both. No determination has been made.
The presentation was made to the Gila County Supervisors because the exploratory drilling has been going on for several years, and all sorts of rumors have been floated.
The underground operation will be highly mechanized, so the work force will essentially be on the surface. Mr. Main didn't mention their figures, but the last I saw, the average mining wage in Arizona is about $50,000 per year, while the average job in Arizona is about $22,500. This will offer great opportunities to unemployed or under-employed miners in the Globe-Superior area. Main did mention that Kennecott had factored an available supply of experienced personnel into their plans.
Although Mr. Main didn't mention it, any one with an eye on the recent past has to be concerned about the professional environmental corps. Carlota Copper has been trying to start a new operation in the same general area. Carlota has spent nine years, and $70 million and has yet to turn the first shovel of dirt; which is almost entirely due to professional environmentalists filing last-minute objections to approvals given Carlota by various state and national agencies. No matter what the stated objectives of the professional environmentalists have been, the economic results have been: more imports of a necessary and expensive material; and loss of relatively high paying jobs in Arizona.
It would seem to me that the great majority of rational people in Gila and Pinal counties, and the state of Arizona, would like to see this project brought to a successful conclusion.