By Mila Besich-Lira
This quiet small town has been known for ranching, farming and as a prison town.This historic Arizona town has most recently become a mecca for new housing developments and an expanding prisoner population all while the town continues to work on historic preservation and downtown redevelopment.
One thing Florence has never been is a mining community.
Copper mining was an industry of their sister Pinal County communities of Superior, Kearny, Mammoth, San Manuel and Oracle but it was not something that Florence was recognized for.That was the case until the 1960s when American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) began exploring for new copper deposits in the area and in the 1970s Continental Oil Company (Conoco) recorded the first copper intercepts in the area and constructed two shafts and one mile of cross cuts.Conoco then studied the ore grades via milling, floatation and vat leaching plants but the project never really solidified.
During the 1990s Magma Copper Company conducted pre-feasibility studies to determine what mining methods should be used they determined that an in-situ copper recovery type of mining should be used.During the 1990s Broken Hill Propriators (BHP) purchased all of the regional Magma Copper properties (Superior, Pinto Valley, San Manuel).BHP continued the development of the Florence Copper Project constructing 67 injection, production and monitoring wells and they had major environmental permits in place by the end of 1999.In 2000 BHP determined that it was not economically feasible to move forward with the project due to low metal prices and the Florence Copper project sat dormant with valuable minerals ready to be mined for 10 years.
In 2009, almost 40 years after ASARCO began studying the project, Curis, which is a subsidary of Hunter Dickinson Inc., acquired the the Florence Copper property, forming Curis Resources Ltd. in 2010 and acquiring a mineral lease from the State of the Arizona.With mineral values at the highest prices they have been, the company sees a profitable venture that will create high paying jobs and will diversify the economy for Florence. The project, which is currently being used as a farm, will also reduce current water consumption on the property by 50 percent once the mine is in operation.Curis Resouces Ltd. will reduce current water consumption by using reclaimed water from mining operations to water the crops in the farm land.
Mining operations and expansions often become a source of controversy even in traditional mining communities.The Florence Copper Project has not been exempt from that opposition. Those in opposition of the project worry that their water will be contaminated by the In-Situ project and while the company has hosted numerous educational open houses to explain the safety measures put in place to protect the water and explain the economic benefits, those in opposition continue to find ways to oppose the project.Recently the Florence Town Council passed an ordinance which will ban sulfuric acid to be used within town limits, with the exception of its use in farm operations.The majority of the opposition has been promoted by large land owners who want to develop the land on and near the Florence Copper project; those plans, if residential, at build out would allow Florence to become the size of Tucson.
In-Situ mining is one of the simplest forms of mining; it will not require miners to go underground, and this type of mining will not create an open pit leaving a scar for all to see.To extract the copper ore, Curis will use injection and recovery wells which are drilled deep into the bedrock to the ore body. A low pH solution, ,similar in strength to household vinegar or lemon juice, is pumped under low pressure through the injection wells.The solution dissolves the copper and then the copper rich solution is pumped through recovery wells.The solution is then processed into pure copper cathode sheets.The injection and recovery wells are encased in a high impact, corrosive-resistant pipe, which is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ).The wells are then protected by concrete casing which prevents the injected solution from contaminating the land.To ensure that the water quality or land is not contaminated, Curis currently has 31 compliance monitoring wells which have been in place since 1996 and continue to monitor the water quality of the area.
When you compare the ore samples at the Florence Copper to say the Resolution Copper project, there are vast differences in the samples.The core samples from the Florence Copper project break easily in your hand similarly to when you break a mud clod.Core samples from other mines usually stay in one long cylinder shape; you would need superhuman strength to breakit apart with your hand.
The project will be under strict oversight and regulation by the EPA, ADEQ, Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Arizona State Land Department.
This summer, Curis Resources Ltd. submitted an application to conduct test facility operations on two acres of state trust land for the drilling and operation of 24 wells over a 12-18 month period.Their plans during the test phase is to optimize and confirm engineering designs, demonstrate the technical considerations with regulators and ensure compliance with all permittingrequirements.The test phase will also allow the company to demonstrate and enhance best water management and new treatment technologies.The test process will help the company to secure capital and estimate the operating costs for the operation.The company is currently waiting on permits to begin their test phase operations.
Once permitting is in place and the operation is in full operation they expect that the mine will be in operation for at least 19 years and will produce 76.5 million pounds of copper.There is not yet a time frame determined for when the mine will be fully permitted and operational.
For more information on the Florence Copper Project or Curis Resources Ltd. visit them online at www.florencecopperproject.com or call them at 520-374-3984 to sign up for a mine tour.
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