A valuable metal first mined by man more than 10,000 years ago, copper is one of the most common and versatile metals in use around the world. Its physical attributes include superior electrical conductivity, corrosion resistance, structural capability, efficient heat transfer and aesthetics.
While mining copper is critical to New Mexico’s economy, so too is restoring areas where copper is mined. Every day copper mining crews are reclaiming mines and mining facilities that are no longer used. Since reclamation work began at the Tyrone Mine in 2004, more than $200 million has been spent on reclamation activities at all New Mexico copper mining sites.
Whether or not closure is imminent, thorough reclamation and closure plans are in place at all copper mines. They ensure the New Mexico environment is always protected. The Chino, Tyrone and Cobre Mines all have programs that protect the environment and public health and safety. The Mines comply with all applicable environmental laws. However, even as the Chino and Tyrone Mines continue to produce copper, reclamation is either planned or underway for unused rock and leach stockpiles and tailing impoundments that might impact ground water or stormwater. Mining operators accelerate reclamation of mining facilities once they are no longer needed for mining operations.
The Chino, Tyrone and Cobre Mines have completed extensive reclamation. Chino and Tyrone have reclaimed over 6,800 acres of tailing ponds and stockpile facilities since 2004. A detailed engineering design plan for grading, contouring and capping the top and slopes of tailing ponds and stockpiles with locally borrowed dirt is approved by New Mexico regulatory agencies. After the grading and capping is complete it is ripped, seeded and monitored. The capping system also called a trans-evaporative cover system has three main purposes: to be erosion resistant, to reduce stormwater infiltration and to support the indigenous flora and fauna.
Extensive reclamation has also been completed at the Cobre Mine, including closure of approximately 83 historic shafts, and reclamation of approximately 150 acres of the Hanover Empire Zinc Mining Area.
During reclamation, careful attention is placed on wildlife habitat. For example, some underground mining developments are home to species of bats, so “bat gates” have been developed and installed to exclude curious individuals from entering old mines while preserving the bats’ habitat.