California copper

Minerals are buried in the earth. And when people find these minerals they make mines. The minerals come out but the mines stay. Hike almost anywhere in the mountains of the American West and you will find abandoned mines.

These mines are not dead, just dormant. That’s because the minerals are still there. Rarely does a mine deplete an entire resource. It’s the economics that drives the opening and closing of mines. There might still be gold or silver or copper in the ground but it might be too costly to extract.

Today we are in the midst of a copper boom. The demand for copper is increasing and much of that has to do with the “greening” of our economy. An electric motor, and its sister the generator, are mostly just coils of copper wire. Electric vehicles need a hell of a lot of copper, for example. And all the existing demands for copper, like wiring for buildings and homes, are still there and continuing to grow. Suffice to say that copper is the stuff of modernity and the modern world needs it in spades.

The best place to find copper is to look where you found it before. Modern methods allow us to go to old mined areas and exploit the same resource but this time more efficiently. In Lassen County in northeastern California copper was mined from the Superior and Engels mines (near the towns of Taylorsville and Greenville) from 1915-1930. Today a Canadian company has acquired the rights to those old areas and the nearby mineralized zones including the Moonlight Valley deposit. They are calling themselves US Copper Corp. Their development is called the Moonlight-Superior Project. Here’s a map:

They figure there’s a billion pounds of retrievable copper and perhaps a billion more pounds available later in the project’s life, which is estimated at 17 years. And it’s a good place for a mine. State Highway 89 is close by as is the Union Pacific Railroad. California is a safe jurisdiction and due to the large mining industry both in the state and in nearby Nevada there are plenty of skilled workers available.

A mine is a messy thing, though. The legacy of the mining industry is not a good one. Yes they produce the things we need but they have historically done that with little regard for the future. An environmentally progressive mine is certainly possible but it obviously takes more work, money, and time. When the number-crunchers tell the bosses to “go ahead” on a mine they have supposedly calculated the amount of work, money, and time it will take for the company to get it done. Let’s hope they included the so-called “externalities” that economists like to talk about. In this case noise, pollution, traffic, and the disruption and degradation of local ecosystems are the externalities. Capitalism doesn’t deal well with such things. But a mine in our back yard is much better than one in a place like Mongolia because at least we have a chance here at home to see that things get done properly.

Please comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s