1. What are the benefits for Florence and Pinal County?
The Florence Copper project will be operated safely, and it will be good for this community. People who have looked closely at the project and have weighed the risks and benefits have welcomed us and support the plan for in-situ copper recovery. This will be a safe, stable mineral extraction activity that will generate a great deal of additional income for related businesses in the area and much needed tax revenue for local governments. The project will also provide hundreds of safe, stable, high paying, skilled and semi-skilled jobs for this area. There will be minimal disturbance to the land which will enable the site to have a “second life” for recreation, housing, or parkland once the copper has been recovered. There are also several areas of the site where there is no mineable copper that could be redeveloped in the immediate future. This means that starting soon, the land could be developed to serve other community activities that residents of the Town of Florence would like to see established. We are committed to continuing the conversation about those potential uses for the property with officials at the Town of Florence.
2. What types of jobs will this project create?
In full production, Florence Copper will create 170 direct jobs on site and 796 total jobs when considering direct and indirect employment opportunities1
. Our local hire policy will emphasize the recruitment of employees from Florence, San Tan Valley, Pinal County and other areas of Arizona for a variety of positions including welders, electricians, engineers, shift supervisors, IT advisors, maintenance personnel, security guards, accountants, administrative assistants, and safety coordinators.
1 Economic Impact Study conducted by Arizona State University 2013
3. Will jobs at Florence Copper be available to local residents or will the company recruit from outside of Florence?
Florence Copper Inc. has a local hire and procurement policy that gives preference to people from the Town of Florence and Pinal County. Florence Copper also directs as much of its spending as possible to local businesses. Jobs of all skill levels will be needed with most being considered head of household wages.
4. Why did Florence Copper Inc. decide to do this project in Florence?
There is a rich history of mining and mining permits on the Florence Copper property. It has been known since the 1960s that a large copper deposit lies beneath the property and since the 1990s we have known that the conditions in Florence make the project ideal for in-situ copper recovery. Copper mineralization at Florence Copper was first identified in the late 1960s. The deposit was further outlined in the late 1970s by Continental Oil Company (Conoco) who later constructed two 700’ shafts and performed on-site test mining. In 1992, Magma Copper Company acquired the property and evaluated the site’s potential for in-situ copper recovery (ISCR). In 1996, Magma was acquired by BHP Copper who conducted a successful in-situ copper recovery pilot test similar to what Florence Copper plans to do.
5. How can people make their voices heard on this project?
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) both provide opportunities for the public to ask questions and make comments on permits and other decisions the agencies are considering. Anyone can contact either agency at any time to express their opinions. Specific public comment periods are provided prior to the permits being issued. While there are currently no decisions required by the Town of Florence Council, we encourage supporters to also voice their support for the project to local elected leaders.
6. What effect will this project have on property values in the area?
The potential to mine the Florence Copper deposit has existed since the 1960s. Originally proposed as an open pit copper mine, the ability now exists to extract the copper with far less environmental impact or disturbance. Called “in-situ copper recovery,” the process allows the copper to be safely extracted from the ground without disturbing the surface environment or impacting the underground water, people, or land anywhere nearby. The expected operational life of this project is about 25 years at which time the land can be redeveloped for housing or other commercial or recreational activities. During operations the site will look very much the same as it does today. Farming may continue to occur on a large portion of the property throughout the life of the operation. Traffic impact on Hunt Highway will be modest and within current, normal traffic patterns, and there will be little noise. The hundreds of direct and indirect jobs created from the project will drive demand for housing and commerce in Florence and the surrounding area.
7. Will this project put acid into our drinking water?
No, this project will not put acid into drinking water. Our permit requirements and the law do not allow that. The in-situ recovery process occurs from 40 to 120 stories (400 – 1,200 feet) below ground in a bedrock layer beneath the lower aquifer unit where local drinking water supplies are withdrawn.
The in-situ process uses a mild mixture of 99.5% water and 0.5% acid that slowly dissolves copper in the bedrock. At the same time this solution is being introduced into the copper ore body, it is also being drawn through the ore and extracted. More solution is pumped out than is pumped in, and the deposit is flushed with water after the copper extraction is complete, so none of the solution is left behind. The water just outside of the project area is continually monitored to ensure proper water quality.
The water used for the in-situ process and the water pumped for drinking are located in different layers and parts of the underground aquifer. In the late 1990s, this same site was permitted and underwent a successful 90-day test phase. For the past 16 years, on-site water quality monitoring wells have been used to collect data to make sure that the in-situ process has been done safely in the past and will be done safely in the future. The company is required by law to constantly monitor groundwater conditions even beyond the working life of the project.
In the worst-case scenario, because of the density of the bedrock where in-situ recovery will take place, any release of in-situ solution would only move about two inches per day. This movement assumes that the solution wasn’t being controlled and the outside wells were not being monitored – a situation that would not be permitted by law. At the rate of two inches per day, and assuming that nothing was done to recapture the solution, it would take roughly 50 years for it to travel off-site and over 100 years for it to reach the closet currently approved drinking water well.
Of course, state and federal environmental laws would never allow that to occur. Any loss of control of injected solution would require Florence Copper to immediately begin pumping to recapture all solution. Restrictions issued by both the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) oversee all operations to protect drinking water, public health, and the environment.
8. Will this project waste water?
The in-situ process uses significantly less water than what would be used by most types of farming or residential housing on the same area of land. The water used in our process comes from a layer of water deep underground that is not used for drinking water or agricultural irrigation. The water-based solution used in the in-situ process is extracted, processed and reused over and over again.
10. Will the company be allowed to do “fracking” here?
We cannot and will not be fracking.
The in-situ process does not involve hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) because the copper ore body at Florence has already been shattered by nature. Under very rare geologic conditions – which happen to have occurred at the Florence Copper site – copper can be extracted with a solution of 99.5% water and 0.5% sulfuric acid that slowly dissolves the copper minerals which is then pumped back to the surface where the copper is removed and the solution is recycled back down into the ore body. The process repeats until all accessible copper has been recovered. Gravity alone allows the in-situ solution to reach the ore body. We have to prove to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) that we can do this work safely. We expect to prove this during the two-year operation of the Production Test Facility once permitted by the EPA and ADEQ.
Although it may sound similar to fracking, it is not – our process is something very different. We cannot and will not be fracking.
11. Is Florence Copper going to drill through the drinking water aquifer and allow acid to get into our drinking water?
Florence Copper is required by federal and state laws administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to ensure that all groundwater is protected. The copper extraction process uses sealed, isolated well casings specifically designed to prevent those kinds of problems. When those casings are no longer used or necessary, they are sealed and filled with cement in accordance with Arizona Department of Water Resources standards to prevent water from migrating to another zone. Monitoring wells will be in operation around the clock to make sure that we contain and control all of the water used in our processes.
12. Does in-situ recovery contaminate the groundwater?
Florence Copper Inc. is required by federal and state law to protect groundwater and prove that the in-situ process can be done safely. In-situ copper recovery is a proven process that only works under unique geologic conditions that happen to be found on this site. It involves using a mixture of 99.5% water and 0.5% acid that slowly dissolves the copper minerals located in a fractured bed of rock 400 to 1200 feet below ground. Monitoring wells are used to ensure water quality and help make certain that process-water does not migrate beyond site boundaries. In fact, monitoring wells have been in place for the past 16 years, and the data collected from these wells prove that this work has been done safely in the past and can be done safely in the future. A news story from the Arizona Republic in September 2012, said:
Experts say that while the in-situ technique sounds intimidating to lay people, the technology is proven. "There are technical solutions to their concerns," said J. Brent Hiskey, a University of Arizona professor of mining and geological engineering. "This technique has a very high degree of certainty. Over time, a long time, this would totally be remediated." Carl Nesbitt, an in-situ mining expert at the University of Nevada, Reno, agreed. "(In-situ mines) never want anything to get away," he said. "They take a lot of precautions to make sure the solutions don't get into anything or hurt anything. No. 1, it is environmental, but No. 2, that is lost profit." He said the solutions are easy to control with pumps. He compared the process to a bathtub, drawing the water down with gravity toward extraction pumps in a controlled way. "That is what these companies do," he said. "They build very nice bathtubs in the middle of the desert."
13. Isn’t the land the project is on zoned for residential use – homes and families?
The Florence Copper project is located on 160 acres of State Trust Land owned by the State of Arizona, which supports the safety and economy of this project. Much of the ore body has been privately owned for 50 years, well before the Town of Florence decided to annex this land into the town limits. This is a unique geologic opportunity that allows the copper to be extracted from hundreds of feet underground without harming the surrounding environment or causing problems for groundwater or the community. When the operation is complete, which we estimate to be about 25 years into full production, the land that the project is located on, as well as the surrounding area, will be available for redevelopment. The surface of the ground will remain largely undisturbed during this period and will likely look no different than it does now.
14. Is it true that a real estate public report for Anthem said there’d be no mining in this area?
Much of the ore body has been privately owned for 50 years, well before the Town of Florence annexed this land into the town limits. The existence of the ore body has been known since 1960 and that fact has been disclosed in public reports.
15. What if the company went out of business, who would pay to clean it up?
For the Florence Copper Project, Florence Copper Inc. is required to post a “performance surety bond,” a three-way insurance policy that guarantees there will always be enough money to correct any problem and safely close the project. For the current project that bond is estimated to be more than $20-million. Regulators, who represent the public, can use money from this bond for clean-up and closure, if for whatever reason the company was unable to meet its responsibilities and obligations.
18. Will there be more trucks and increased, dangerous traffic created from the project?
Hunt Highway traffic resulting from the project will be relatively modest and within normal traffic patterns currently seen.
19. Has this in-situ process been done anywhere before?
Yes. In-situ copper recovery has been done here in Arizona adjacent to other types of mining activities and around the globe for decades. It is considered to be one of the most environmentally safe ways to recover copper. Florence Copper will be the first to use this process exclusively to recover the mineral, and mining experts from around the globe will watch as Florence Copper sets the stage with this cutting-edge opportunity for Pinal County.
20. Is it dangerous to haul sulfuric acid to the site?
Sulfuric acid is a substance commonly used by both the mining and agriculture industries in central Arizona. It has also been produced in the area for over four decades and is safely transported throughout the region by truck or rail on a regular basis. As currently envisaged, the acid used for the Florence Copper project will be locally sourced as much as possible and transported to site by way of specially designed trucks. The off-loading area at the site is comprised of a cement pad that is covered with an acid-resistant coating and the steel storage tanks are equipped with secondary containment features to ensure no release into the environment. Initially, the acid will be mixed with water or ISCR solution from the SX/EW plant at proportions of approximately 99.5% water and 0.5% acid prior to being re-used in the well field.