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Utah has plenty of ‘bling’ from mining

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's mining industry put the state among the top 10 in the country for production in 2017, generating $3.3 billion from both industrial and precious metals.

Aside from the copper, silver, gold and molybdenum, Utah is home to the world's only volcanic source of beryllium, an extremely light metal used in the manufacturing of cellphones, missiles, spacecraft and satellites.

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Aaron Thorup, Utah Geological Survey

Juab County's Spor Mountain, where mining began in 1969, produces about 70 percent of the global supply of beryllium, said Ken Krahulec, the Utah Geological Survey's senior economic geologist.

"Spor Mountain is wildly unique," he said, adding the material comes from volcanic rock, rather than granite.

The mine has 50-plus years of reserve material.

"It will be the world's largest producer for potentially decades to come," Krahulec said.

Beryllium is on the 2018 Department of Interior's "critical mineral" list given its wide application for military and medical uses.

The Utah Geological Survey recently released Utah Mining 2017, a publication that details the value and production of Utah's mined commodities, including metals, industrial minerals and coal.

Dan Baker, CEO and president of the Bronco Utah Mine, looks over a coal stack pile at the mine near Emery on Wednesday, March 29, 2017.

Dan Baker, CEO and president of the Bronco Utah Mine, looks over a coal stack pile at the mine near Emery on Wednesday, March 29, 2017.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Both base and precious metals production values increased significantly last year, up 7 percent. Industrial mining volume rose by 11 percent, while precious metals rose 15 percent.

Copper, magnesium, beryllium and molybdenum accounted for 70 percent of the total metal production value. Gold and silver mining delivered $261 million in value.

Aside from beryllium, Utah is the nation's sole source of magnesium and is home to U.S. Magnesium, the country's only facility producing magnesium metal from a primary source. It was the second largest contributor to Utah's base metal value in 2017.

Work goes on as Rio Tinto Kennecott employees give a tour of the new visitors area at the Bingham Canyon Mine on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. The mine's visitor sites will reopen to the public in early 2019.

Work goes on as Rio Tinto Kennecott employees give a tour of the new visitors area at the Bingham Canyon Mine on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Coal operators produced 14.4 million tons of coal for a value of $493 million. Coal production in 2017 rose slightly due to expansions at the SUFCO mine near Salina, Sevier County, and employment is expected to increase by 9 percent by year's end as several mines expand their operations.

Krahulec said when it comes to mining, Utah is a mixed bag with its diversity of natural resources.

Arizona is the leading producer with its copper mines, while Nevada ranks second because of its proliferation of gold mining operations.

Big states like California and Texas are heavy with industrial mining for resources used in buildings and roads, he noted.

Kennecott's Bingham Canyon Mine is what puts Utah in such a dominant position, keeping it in the top 10 for the past decade.

"When Bingham is doing well, we move into the No. 4 or 5 spot. If not, we're at 9 or 10."

The mine, which produces all of Utah’s molybdenum, gold and silver and nearly all its copper, delivered $1.3 billion in value for its metals, experiencing a 26 percent increase from 2016.

A massive landslide in 2013, one of the largest in North American history, sharply curtailed production that year.

The landslide moved as fast as 100 mph and released nearly 100 million cubic yards of material, disrupting the operations of the mine that has produced more copper than any other in the world.

Kyle Bennett, Kennecott spokesman, said the mine has resumed normal operations.

Utah, the report notes, is also the sole producer of potassium sulfate and gilsonite.

The state is the only place in the world that contains large deposits of gilsonite, which is shipped worldwide for use in numerous and diverse products including asphalt paving mixes, coatings, inks and paints.