May 21, 2015 8:56 PM   Subscribe

Tim Heffernan is a freelance writer interested in heavy industry and the natural world.

The Tagalong Metals
Not surprisingly, ongoing growth in oil consumption, combined with the rapid industrialization of China and India over the last decade, created a spike in demand for molybdenum. Its price rose accordingly, and in 2006 temporarily spiked so high that, measured by share of the mine’s annual profit, Bingham Canyon was a moly operation. Ironically, in its hundredth year, the greatest copper mine on Earth wasn’t primarily a copper mine at all.
The New Bronze Age
The plan calls for five blocks of ore, each more than half a mile square and a third of a mile tall, to be carved out of the solid rock underneath the pit. In theory, the void created could swallow midtown Manhattan from 33rd Street to 57th Street; 500 feet of empty air would hang above the spire of the Empire State Building. The project would completely transform the mine’s operations. Ore from an open pit is dug from above, like sugar spooned from a bowl. Ore from an underground mine is dug from below, like sugar spooned out from the bottom of a pile, except that the sugar is a city-size slab of solid rock.
The Copper Giant
The Bingham Canyon open-pit copper mine is the largest man-made excavation on earth, a hole nearly three miles wide and nearly four thousand feet deep. (For that matter, it's larger than most natural excavations—much bigger than the hole left when Mount St. Helens erupted, for example.) On a typical day, half a million tons of rock are dynamited, dug up, trucked out, crushed, concentrated, smelted, and finally refined into roughly eight hundred tons of pure copper. That meets about 1 percent of global demand.
This Is America's Last Steam-Powered Sawmill
The Biggest Ship in the World Tears Down Abandoned Oil Rigs
Iron Giant
APPROACHING ALCOA’S 50,000-TON forging press feels a bit like approaching an alp: it starts out incomprehensibly huge and keeps getting incomprehensibly huger. From a distance, the thing dominates the horizon of the hangar-like Cleveland Works facility; as you get nearer, catching glimpses through forests of girders and around cliffs of firebrick, it begins to dominate the air above. But even as you stand at its foot, being told that the eight steel bolts anchoring it are 40 inches thick, calculating in your head that that makes them 10 feet around—even then it’s still a bit out of reach. Only when you climb it, peer down from its sixth-floor summit, and realize that the puny machine next to it is, in fact, its 35,000-ton brother—well, then you finally appreciate the size of the thing. It’s big.
posted by the man of twists and turns (6 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
man of twists and turns, you have turned my evening twisty with delight! Great stuff; great ideas, great writing. Thanks!
posted by pt68 at 9:04 PM on May 21, 2015

Fascinating collection of articles.
posted by josephtate at 9:39 PM on May 21, 2015

I've seen some of his pieces before and enjoyed them. There is some good reading here.

The more you move toward a lower-footprint future, the more demand there is for our product.

As someone who works in the fully analog world right now, the contradictions in how old-school work is seen relative to the supposedly much cleaner digital or high tech work is markedly apparent, as are misapprehensions about how physical, concrete work is actually accomplished.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:46 PM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Great articles. Big pebbles make big ripples makes for terrifying reading - Pebble mine would produce one of the biggest toxic-waste sites on earth
posted by unliteral at 10:31 PM on May 21, 2015

These are really interesting. The PDF link, though, isn't working for me.
posted by chavenet at 5:20 AM on May 22, 2015

That "New Bronze Age" article is a great look at a complex issue. The part about how Mongolia and other countries have learned to use contracts with mining companies to build out infrastructure for the long haul is a hopeful sign.

The part about the long and toxic life of mine tailing ponds, not so much.
posted by mediareport at 7:10 AM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

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