BORON — Stakeholders, guests and government officials from Tehachapi and surrounding areas attending the second annual State of Our Business tour at Rio Tinto on Wednesday heard about the importance of employee safety, efficiency and use of high-tech equipment to mine borax, one of the world's scarce minerals.
“It’s a privilege to host important community stakeholders at the mine site. It’s important everyone understands the site, staying safe and they get to see it, and discover it firsthand,” said Mary Beth Garrison, manager of external affairs.
Borax is used in many products including agriculture, micronutrients, installation, energy, solar energy, glass products, soap, fiberglass in wind turbines, in electronics and even in cell phone screens to make them heat resistant.
“Our role of our leadership is to imagine the future. We are trying to do more than imagine it, we are trying to shape it," said Richard Cohen, managing director for Rio Tinto.
The mine at Boron is California’s largest open pit mine and one of two largest borax mines in the world. The other is in Turkey. The product is estimated to last up to 40 years or more, before the supply of borax is depleted, said Cohen.
Cohen added the company is experimenting with renewable energy, investigating ways to apply digital transformation and looking into how other minerals, such as lithium, found at the mine can be used to lengthen the time to harvest the material and help the environment. The pit size of the mine is 1.75 miles wide, 2 miles long and could fill 254,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Safety for employees is a top priority, those on the tour heard.
Employees and guests are required to complete rigorous safety training and report any hazards.
Many underground tunnels dug by hand down to 1,100 feet below the surface began in the early 1930s and and are still underneath the pit, said Joe Pettigrew, superintendent at Rio Tinto.
The company looks for voids or old-fashioned tunnels underground that employees, haul trucks, loaders and other equipment could possibly fall through. Drills, the use of high-tech cameras, compaction techniques and other ways to ensure safety are used every day. Plus, operations are stopped when rain or moisture come to the area as the roads are made of clay and are not safe to travel.
Borax is white powdery rock, with the bottom layer being the material and brown and gray layers of rock and dirt at the surface.
“The significance of the gray is that it’s a clay that protected all of the ore seam. The ores are both water soluble, and so had not the clay protected them from the moisture over the last 18 million years, the ore body would have just eroded away and been absorbed into the earth around,” said Pettigrew.
Giant haul trucks measuring two stories wide and two-and-a-half stories tall gather the ore. The cost to replace the machines is about $1 million.
Each truck uses about 1,000 gallons of fuel per day, with about 13 trucks running operations, not to mention other equipment, said Pettigrew.
The visitor center at 14486 Borax Road in Boron is open to the public and shows how borax is in many products all of us use daily. The center provides a lookout point of the mine and an example of a truck that carries the ore out of the mine on a daily basis.
For more information, call 1-760-762-7000 or visit riotinto.com.