Arizona quietly sells 16,810 acres to Freeport-McMoRan for mining waste

The Bagdad copper mine and Freeport-McMoRan company town. /Devin Poolman, CC 2.0

By Steven Hsieh | Phoenix New Times

The Arizona State Land Department this month sold nearly 17,000 acres of pristine desert land to Freeport-McMoRan, a Phoenix-based international mining company, which plans to use the property to store waste from its Bagdad copper mine.

The company purchased the land for about $13.5 million as the sole bidder during a January 6 auction. According to a document posted publicly prior to the sale, Freeport-McMoRan plans to use the site for a “tailings storage facility,” referring to the often-toxic, sludge-like byproduct of mining. The purchase stands to essentially double the size of Freeport-McMoRan’s mining operations in Bagdad, which, according to the town’s website, accounts for roughly 20 percent of the company’s North American copper production. 

The plat equals roughly 25 square miles — larger than the island of Manhattan.

It is nearly seven times the size of a pending land acquisition by a British-Australian company for a mining operation near Superior. That project, Resolution Copper, would involve extracting copper from beneath Oak Flat, an area that Native American opponents consider sacred, and until a land swap, was protected from mining.

Yet whereas Resolution Copper’s plans to conduct mining operations on 2,400 acres of federal land triggered a years-long process involving stakeholder meetings and public hearings, studies and news articles, protests from the San Carlos Apache tribe, and a rider on a defense spending bill from the late Senator John McCain, Freeport-McMoRan’s deal with the state of Arizona slipped by when few were paying attention.


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February 2020