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Rio Tinto’s Kennecott Copper Mine near Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

Rio Tinto´s Kennecott copper mine in Bingham Canyon has been conflictive for many decades with impunity, with scandals including worker mistreatment, environmental violations, and sponsoring the 2012 London Olympics.


In 1906, Kennecott Utah Copper established a mine in Bingham Canyon, less than 50km south of Salt Lake City. The Kennecott mine has produced more copper than any mine in history and is the world´s largest open put mine [11, 1]. Rio Tinto bought the Kennecott mine in 1989 [11]. Since then, the mine has had a long history of environmental conflicts and has caused Salt Lake City to become the 9th most toxic major metropolitan area in the United States [1].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Rio Tinto’s Kennecott Copper Mine near Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Utah
Location of conflict:Salt Lake City
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Mineral processing
Specific commodities:Copper
Rare metals
Industrial waste
Recycled Metals
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The mine is owned by Rio Tinto Group, a British-Australian multinational corporation. The copper operations at Bingham Canyon Mine are managed through Kennecott Utah Copper Corporation which operates the mine, a concentrator plant, a smelter, and a refinery. The mine has been in production since 1906, and has resulted in the creation of a pit over 0.75 miles (1,210 m) deep, 2.5 miles (4 km) wide, and covering 1,900 acres (3.0 sq mi; 7.7 km2) [5].

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Project area:900
Type of populationUrban
Start of the conflict:21/01/2003
Company names or state enterprises:Rio Tinto (Rio Tinto ) from United Kingdom
Kennecott Utah Copper from United States of America
Relevant government actors:US Court
International and Finance InstitutionsInternational Olympic Committee (IOC)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:United Steelworkers of America, American Academy of Pediatrics, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Utah Medical Association, Utah Clean Air Alliance, Sierra Club, Friends of Great Salt Lake, Utah Moms for Clean Air, WildEarth Guardians, London Mining Network, American Lung Association, Center for Biological Diversity, League of Women Voters of Salt Lake, the Westpointe Community Council
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Artisanal miners
Industrial workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Trade unions
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
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 ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Genetic contamination
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Despite the worldwide protests between Utah and London and beyond, Rio Tinto still made the medals for the Olympics and continues to expand its operations without impunty.
Sources & Materials

[1] Independent. Pollution row hits mining firm supplying Olympic medals (Sherwin 2011)
[click to view]

[2] BBC. London 2012 Olympic medal ores to be mined by Rio Tinto (2011)
[click to view]

[3] The Guardian. Olympic medal pollution protesters disrupt Rio Tinto meeting (Neate 2012)
[click to view]

[4] The Salt Lake Tribune. Inland port foes turn their attention to Kennecott and its Salt Lake City land holdings (Stevens 2020)
[click to view]

[5] Rio Tinto. Rio Tinto to build new tellurium plant at Kennecott mine (2021)
[click to view]

[6] KUER. Rio Tinto Targeted in Campaign Against Olympic Sponsors (2012)
[click to view]

[7] Friends of the Earth. Where your money goes: a worldwide tour of Rio Tinto’s wreckage (Tricarico 2015)
[click to view]

[8] Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. Rio Tinto - Kennecott (2019)
[click to view]

[9] The Salt Lake Tribune. Environmental groups protest Kennecott mine expansion (Fahys 2011)
[click to view]

[10] Deseret News. Union members protest mining giant's policies (Nii 2003)
[click to view]

[11] Mining. Rio Tinto spending $108m to study going underground at Kennecott (2021)
[click to view]

[12] Wikipedia. Bingham Canyon Mine
[click to view]

[13] Mining. Rio Tinto´s Kennecott Wins Clean Air Lawsuit in the US
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA-UAB, [email protected]
Last update21/10/2021
Conflict ID:5648
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