Mining foundation presents awards, laments lack of attention

28 December 2005 | 04:30 Code : 7196 Geoscience events
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For the 23rd year, mining engineers and geologists from around the world gathered in Tucson on Dec. 3 to discuss innovations in exploration and mining and to recognize achievement...
For the 23rd year, mining engineers and geologists from around the world gathered in Tucson on Dec. 3 to discuss innovations in exploration and mining and to recognize achievement, but again this year, as in previous ones, few people beyond the industry noticed.

Sponsored by the Mining Foundation of the Southwest and timed to coincide with the annual Arizona conference of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration meeting, this year’s banquet honored Pierre Lassonde, president of Newmont Mining Co. and president of the World Gold Council, who discussed the need for the mining industry to talk more to the public.

It was a timely message, said Rishan Bhappu, president of Mountain States Research and Development and president of the Tucson-based mining federation. “Lassonde said mining people talk to each other and not to the public. As a result, nobody’s paying attention,” he said. “We need to be putting the message across that this is a good industry and an essential one.”

He said, “This is an industry that provides a good livelihood to a lot of people. It’s also a growing industry looking at a better future.”

Although it gets little attention, it’s also a significant industry for Southern Arizona, which is why the American Mining Hall of Fame and Mining Foundation of the Southwest are based in Tucson. “Southern Arizona produces 60-70 percent of the U.S. requirement for copper,” said William Dresher, former dean of the College of Mining, now the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering, at the University of Arizona and chairman of the hall of fame.
 
“Most people here aren’t familiar with mining and others think it is bad, but for Southern Arizona, it’s a growth business,” he said. There is copper, along with gold, silver and molybdenum, which is used as a steel alloy.

Dresher said the local mines operating today have a large amount of ore left to be extracted and “there are possibilities for new mines.”

Because of improved technology, direct mining employment in Arizona has dropped from 27,000 in the 1970s to about 7,000, now, but that’s less significant than it appears. “The industry has become high tech,” he said. “As a result, copper has become a major contributor to the high tech industry, both as a provider of the metal that producers need, and as customer for high technology products and services.”

Tucson’s high technology industry is a special beneficiary of this demand, Dresher said. “There are dozens of support companies in this city, developing software, equipment, robotics and chemical analysis, as well as consulting services,” he said. “We also bring a steady stream of people here from around the world because Tucson is a world focal point for the mining industry.”

Improving the public profile of Southern Arizona’s mining industry has become the mission of the mining foundation, which sponsors the Hall of Fame awards banquet. Created in 1993 by merging the Mining Club of the Southwest with the Mining Club of the Southwest Foundation, the mining foundation has produced a three-volume history of Arizona mines, sponsored the mining history exhibit at the Arizona State Museum, prepared a self-guided tour for the University of Arizona’s Mineral Museum and supported community and school groups by arranging tours, speakers and presentation materials on geology and mining-related topics.

“We’ll go to the universities, help out in schools and, basically, do anything that provides a positive picture of mining in Arizona,” said foundation spokeswoman Jean Austin. “We talk about the need for metals here and to support the vast infrastructure projects in India and China.”

She said the foundation also talks about changes in the industry, which have eliminated or made safe most of the environmentally hazardous practices, and established a land reclamation process for restoring former mine property for other use. “We want people to know what we’re doing and why it’s valuable for the state and the nation.”

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