(p. B6) SUPERIOR, Ariz.–One of the world’s largest untapped copper deposits sits 7,000 feet below the Earth’s surface. It is a lode that operator Rio Tinto PLC wouldn’t have touched–until now.
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Advances in mining technology are making that possible–just as developments in oil and gas drilling heralded the fracking revolution. Now, using everything from sensors and data analytics to autonomous vehicles and climate-control systems, Rio aims to pull ore from more than a mile below ground, where temperatures can reach nearly 175 degrees Fahrenheit.
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While a deep underground block-cave mine costs much more to develop, Rio says it can match the operating costs per ton of ore of a surface mine, partly because it is so mechanized.
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As with the development of new hydraulic-fracturing and horizontal-drilling techniques to extract oil from shale-rock deposits, locating and extracting the copper successfully requires deployment of new technologies such as cheaper, more powerful sensors and breakthroughs in the use of data.
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Electrical gear buzzes constantly, and a network of pipes pumps water out of the shaft at the rate of 600 gallons a minute. A ventilation system cools the area to 77 degrees.
Over the next few years, Rio plans to deploy tens of thousands of electronic sensors, as well as autonomous vehicles and complex ventilation systems, to help it bring 1.6 billion tons of ore to the surface over the more than 40-year projected life of the mine.
For the full story, see:
Steven Norton. “Rio Digs Deeper for Copper.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., June 8, 2017): B6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 7, 2017, and has the title “Mining a Mile Down: 175 Degrees, 600 Gallons of Water a Minute.”)