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MAGNA — With the use of technology and careful watching, damage caused by the slide at Kennecott's Bingham Canyon Mine was minimized before it even happened.
The area where the slide occurred had been watched closely since the 1970s, said Mike Nelson, chair of the mining and engineering department at the University of Utah. Rio Tinto carefully monitored the land and took key measures to prevent major disaster.
"You can imagine if a slide like that had taken place and people didn't expect it," he said. "It could have been catastrophic."
Rio Tinto measured the ground's movement using everything from radar to tools as simple as prisms and steel rods attached to cables. If the land shifted, the cables left a mark.
"What I hope other operators will learn, whether it's construction crews or mining operators, or running sand and gravel pits, is there is not a price too big to pay if it saves the life of one worker," Nelson said.
All of mine's employees were evacuated, safe and accounted for before the slide occurred at around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. Nearby residents were also warned that a slide was possible any day.
Drastic ground movement was first detected in February, and at the time the ground was moving fractions of an inch. At that point, the company closed and relocated the visitors center. In the days leading up to the slide, engineers started seeing movement of up to 2 inches per day.
"We've seen acceleration rates increase until where we landed (Wednesday night)," said Kennecott spokesman Kyle Bennett. "When it reaches 2 inches per day, that's certainly a time we want to take steps that we have been planning for a number of weeks in order to make sure people are out of the way."
Shifting and moving ground is just part of the mining industry, Nelson said, and the company will be impacted for weeks, even months, by the mine's closure. The slide also blocked a haulage road that will need to be cleared. For now, engineers will continue to monitor movement to see if it's over.
"There's really not much that can be done except watch it and make sure that you respond appropriately," he said.