The mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP are very close to open the largest copper mine in the United States. The Resolution mine will be located in Arizona’s famous Copper Corridor and promises to bring jobs and profit to small towns like Superior, the typical mining hub.
This new project promises $61.4 billion in economic activity over almost 60 years and 1,400 jobs at the peak of production. However, these jobs don’t mean the type of work the local miners are used to see in other older pits. Being a huge project developed in a technological decade, it’s obvious that the Resolution Copper mine will be crowded with advanced innovations and maybe some autonomous devices.
“The generations of traditional mining experience in Superior may not be of much use as Resolution, like mines around the world, turns to robotics“, recently wrote the Tucson Sentinel. According to Thomas Power, an economics professor at the University of Montana, “we’ve reached a new world when it comes to mining”.
Arizona will probably become part of this new world when it comes to the new mine. The signs are obvious, as the copper industry in the area is becoming less and less labor-intensive. Between 1974 and 2003, the number of workers needed to produce 1,000 tons of copper fell 80 percent, outlines a report written by Thomas Power and commissioned by the San Carlos Apache, who opposed the mine.
According to the study, copper-mining employment dropped dramatically in Arizona, from 28,000 workers in 1974 to 12,000 in 1997. And this happened despite a 75 percent increase in copper production during the same period: the output went from 805,000 tons to 1.4 million tons.
Mary Poulton, head of the University of Arizona’s Department of Mining and Geological Engineering, confirms this idea. The mine will “push the envelope of technology”, extracting copper at 7,000 feet deep. Poulton assures the project will require a higher level of education from its workers than earlier mines did, which can be a problem for miners from small towns like Superior.