Mining in Arizona

What is mined in Arizona

66% of copper mined in the U.S. comes from Arizona. Copper is in every electronic device you own and it makes up the wires that bring electricity to your home. Each car you see in the parking lot at your school or workplace contains around 50 pounds of copper – electric and hybrid vehicles contain as much as 75 pounds of copper!

But it’s not just copper – Arizona mines produce many other materials that you use or benefit from every day. From zeolites (found in water purification systems and kitty litter!) to the sand and gravel used to build our homes, sidewalks and roads – Arizona minerals touch every aspect of our lives.

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Impact of mining in Arizona

Economic (2017)

  •  9,807 direct mining jobs
  •  $102,859 Average industry wage
  •  $1.0 billion Direct Payroll to Arizona workers
  •  26,133 Indirect jobs
  •  $1.194 billion in purchases from AZ suppliers


  • 21% decrease in mining water withdrawals between 2010-2015


  •  Zero Fatalities in the AZ mining industry in 2018 and 2019


  •  Freeport-McMoran has reclaimed a combined 2,650 acres of disturbed land at Miami and Bisbee.

What makes Arizona special?

Ancient volcanoes:

50-80 million years ago Arizona was a volcanic mountain chain like the Andes. Hot fluids rising from the magma deposited metals like copper into the surrounding rocks.

Faulting and erosion:

After ore formation, faulting protected the copper deposits in the upper crust from being eroded away.


In Arizona’s arid climate, water slowly percolating down through rocks and soil at the surface can leach away copper from the surrounding material and deposit it farther down.

Climate and topography:

The lack of vegetation and abundance of outcrop leave Arizona’s geology readily exposed to prospectors and explorers.

Arizona's Rich Mining History

Mining shaped the foundation of the state of Arizona. Copper is one of the 5 C’s (along with cattle, cotton, climate and citrus) that formed the basis of Arizona’s economy in the past and continue to shape it today. The following excerpts and videos were gathered by researchers as part of the Miner’s Story Project, a digital oral history project started at the University of Arizona in 2005.

The Siren Call of the Underground

Dick Graeme’s grandfather began as an underground miner in Bisbee at the age of 13. His grandfather’s tales inspired Graeme’s to explore Bisbee’s labyrinthine tunnels starting at the age of six. With a continued interest in mining, Graeme went on to obtain a degree in Mining Engineering from The University of Arizona, and worked in the mining industry for the rest of his career.


Tales from a Female Truck Driver

Being the first female truck driver at the Morenci Mine, Sally Balfour had her work and cut out for her from day one. Sally was born in Morenci, Arizona and was a part of a 4th generation mining family, so she knew that mining was in her blood. When Sally was hired, men had a very different view on women being in the mining industry, and it was this view that Sally wanted to change. Sally held nothing back and took it upon herself to ensure that the men on her crew respected and trusted her. To Sally, working at the mine was about being there and doing her job, no matter the circumstances.


Multi-generational Mining Families

Tim Snider recounts how family hardships linked his family to Arizona mining for at least three generations. Tim Snider’s grandparents migrated from West Virginia to Arizona during the depression. After living in a tent city outside of Phoenix, Tim’s grandfather finally got a job from Phelps Dodge at the Ajo copper mine and ensured his family knew to be grateful for what they had. Two generations later, Tim became President and Chief Operating Officer of that company.


Significance of Smelter Stacks

The demolition of an old smoke stack may not seem like a sentimental moment to most people, but to residents of Mammoth and Oracle these structures were landmarks symbolizing one of the most productive and well-known underground mines in Arizona. The 2017 demolition of the San Manuel smelter stacks  marked the end of an era since the mine permanently closed in 1999.


The Challenge and Excitement of Engineering a River of Ore

Onofre “Taffy” Tafoya explains the synergy needed to turn rock into metal. The hundreds of miners each doing their own job, overcoming every obstacle in their way to keep that river of ore moving. Conflict and camaraderie were the daily reality for these dedicated miners.


From Rough to Refined: A Brief History of Bisbee

Bisbee is one of the most legendary mining towns in the United States. It helped transform the southwestern United States and was home to plenty of controversy along the way. Two figures from Bisbee’s past show the transformation from rough to refined George Warren – the whiskey-loving prospector and Dr. James Douglas – a cultured scientist and businessman.