Arizona school children have long been taught the five C’s of Arizona – Cotton, Cattle, Citrus, Climate and Copper. As you travel through the state you will eventually go past the giant open pit mines for copper.
One such mine is located in the hills above the town of Sahuarita.
Copper demand today is as high as it has ever been as it is essential to a variety of products including electronics like your phones and computers. Almost 70% of the copper mined in the USA is right here in Arizona. The company that owns this mine has a small museum and offers tours.
After watching a promotional video on the virtues of copper, a professional tour guide led us to the bus for a trip up the mountain to see the pit and smelter.
The equipment that is used is huge.
Copper mining uses an immense amount of water in the processing. The guide said that these ponds are used in something known as tailings, and that they are safe and have a high percent of recycling of the water. History however shows that virtually every mining operation has some sort of environmental impact, either from spills or seepage into ground water.
As you make your way to the top you go past miles of terraced hillside, both for the mining itself and additional tailing ponds.
There are many mines in Arizona that are significantly larger than this one, but the scale of this one is still impressively huge.
As we made our way back down the hill we stopped by the facility where they do the smelting and refining.
Being like most people in the world today I like my phone, computers and cars, but there is a cost to all of this. Scientists and engineers have way to mine for minerals in a more environmentally friendly way, but the investment cost is significant. One would hope that as a society we would find these would be worthwhile investments compared to others and find ways to continue to use the resources needed but leave this world in better shape.