Copper Country: Why Transportation Infrastructure Matters to the Mining Industry

safford mine

The Accelerate Arizona Roadshow continued this month with a trip to the southeastern part of the state. After touring Freeport-McMoran’s mine in Safford, public officials and business leaders attended a Transportation Town Hall held at Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher. Participants included House Transportation Committee Chairman Rick Gray, Rep. Noel Campbell, Thatcher Mayor Bob Rivera, Safford Mayor Chris Gibbs, Graham County Supervisors Danny Smith and Jim Palmer, the Graham County Chamber of Commerce, the Arizona Department of Transportation, and numerous other local leaders.

Southeastern Arizona is endowed with some of the most substantial copper deposits in the country. Naturally, mining is a leading industry in this region. The Seidman Research Institute at Arizona State University found that mining has a $4.87 billion economic impact statewide, $3.3 billion of which is attributed to copper. Statewide, mining directly employed 11,800 people in 2013 and an estimated 39,400 jobs are associated with the broader economic impact of mining.

A well-functioning transportation system is critical to getting essential inputs for mining operations and for shipping the ore to market.  Most inputs such as ammonium nitrate, diesel and sulphuric acid arrive by truck. In the fiscal 2014-15, each month an average of 2,433 inbound trucks arrived at Freeport-McMoran’s mine in Morenci and another 2,601 at their mine in Safford, according to data provided by the Arizona Mining Association. Copper cathode and concentrate and molybdenum concentrate bound for domestic and global markets are shipped by rail and truck, with a total of just under 2,000 outbound trucks coming from these two operations each month. These are staggering numbers that underscore the importance of maintaining strong infrastructure in order to support economic activity.

Some of these trucks are bound for Mexico where they frequently encounter delays are border crossings. Read more about challenges and opportunities are border ports in our August 18 blog. Later this week we will be heading farther south to Nogales where we will explore these issues in greater depth.

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