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Oak Flat copper and molybdenum mining, USA

Resolution Copper (Rio Tinto and BHP) threatens to destroy Apache ceremonial grounds at Chi'chil Bildagoteel in Arizona for critical materials for the so-called energy transition


Oak Flat is a sacred site in the homeland of the Apache Nation who know it as Chi’chil Biłdagoteel. It is also held sacred by Zuni, Yavapai, O’odham and Hopi people [14]. For centuries, people have visited Chi’chil Bildagoteel to hold ceremonies and to collect acorns and medicinal plants [8]. The area contains hundreds of petroglyphs, historic sites, and sacred springs [6][8][14]. The Apache have never lost their relationship with Chi’chil  Bildagoteel, although during some of their history the U.S. government has not allowed them to use the land [11][14].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Oak Flat copper and molybdenum mining, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Arizona
Location of conflict:Superior, Pinal county
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Mineral processing
Specific commodities:Copper
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Total projection of 40 billion tons of copper produced over 40-50 years

Project area:4,050 to 7,080 hectares
Level of Investment for the conflictive project$2,000,000,000 to date [2]
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:Several Indigenous nations, other nearby residents
Start of the conflict:01/01/2004
Company names or state enterprises:Resolution Copper Co. from United States of America
Rio Tinto (Rio Tinto ) from United Kingdom
BHP Billiton (BHP) from United Kingdom
Relevant government actors:USDA Forest Service
Cooperating Agencies: Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Arizona Department of Water Resources, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Arizona State Land Department, Arizona State
Mine Inspector, Bureau of Land Management, Pinal County Air Quality Control District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Apache Stronghold (,
Endorsing organizations: National Congress of American Indians, National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, Indian Land Tenure Association, Americans for Indian Opportunity, Coalition of Large Tribes, Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, United Southern and Eastern Tribes, Inter Tribal Association of Arizona, All Pueblo Council of Governors, Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, Inc., Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, Native American Rights Fund, National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, Indian Land Tenure Foundation, American Indians for Opportunity, Arizona Mining Reform Coalition, Concerned Citizens & Retired Miners Coalition, Center For Biological Diversity, National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Access Fund, Earthworks, Patagonia, Inc., First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance, Outdoor Alliance, American Civil Liberties Union, Association on American Indian Affairs, HECHO, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Center for American Progress, Teamsters Local Union 104 (Phoenix), Poor People's Campaign
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
San Carlos Apache, Zuni, Yavapai, O’odham and Hopi people
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Mine tailing spills, Desertification/Drought
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Land dispossession
Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
Project temporarily suspended
Proposal and development of alternatives:Not mining the area.
The Save Oak Flat Act would revoke the land swap transferring ownership of Oak Flat to Resolution Copper
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Litigation is ongoing as of June 2022
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[1] USDA Forest Service, Resolution Copper Project and Land Exchange Draft Environmental Impact Statement, 2019
[click to view]

[9] Save Oak Flat Act (US Congress public record)
[click to view]

[12] National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2015, Section 3003, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[7] Lucas, Emily. The Environmental and Spiritual Significance of Chi’chil Bildagoteel, an Apache Sacred Site. Environmental program thesis, Colorado College, 5/2017
[click to view]

[14] Welch, John R. (2017) Earth, Wind, and Fire: Pinal Apaches, Miners, and Genocide in Central Arizona, 1859-1874. Sage Open.
[click to view]

[2] Resolution Copper Project Overview. Company website
[click to view]

[3] USDA Forest Service. Resolution Copper Update.
[click to view]

[4] Kelety, Josh. "Biden Administration Says Oak Flat Land Swap Should Proceed Despite Lawsuit", Phoenix New Times, 6/2/21
[click to view]

[5] Krol, Debra Utacia. "Biden official tours Oak Flat as Forest Service begins talks with tribes over copper mine", AZCentral, 2/13/22.
[click to view]

[6] Oatman, Maddie. "EVs’ demand for copper escalates threat against Apache’s Oak Flat", High Country News. 4/20/22.
[click to view]

[8] Hedgpeth, Dana. "This land is sacred to the Apache, and they are fighting to save it", The Washington Post, 4/12/21.
[click to view]

[10] History of the Save Oak Flat Act (Apache Stronghold website)
[click to view]

[11] Apache Stronghold website
[click to view]

[13] Whitman, Elizabeth. "New Report Provides Terrifying Detail of Mining Destruction Coming for Oak Flat." Phoenix New Times August 14, 2019
[click to view]

[15] Sacred Land Film Project, November 2018
[click to view]

Stern, Ray. "Environmental Study of Planned Copper Mine at Arizona's Oak Flat Could Halt Project", Phoenix New Times, March 22, 2016.
[click to view]

Vice News 2017: Inside the Fight Against a Mining Development in Oak Flat
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Ksenija Hanacek and EJAtlas collaborators
Last update23/06/2022
Conflict ID:6041
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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