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When copper was discovered in the Copper Basin in 1843, no one understood the devastating effects mining would have on the environment. The devastation became so great, the Copper Basin was once considered the largest man-made biological desert in the nation with more than 32,000 acres stripped of vegetation by the 1870s.

Trees were cut and used to fuel open-pit smelting of the raw ore, which was burned slowly in large heaps for two to three months to lower its sulfur content. The escaping smoke and other steps in the smelting operation released sulfur dioxide into the air. Sulphur recovery began in 1907 with the construction of the first acid plant.

Soon the area's vegetation was either removed for fuel or killed by fumes. This, combined with steep terrain and more than 60 inches of yearly rainfall, created severe erosion. For decades the site remained a scar on the environment.

It was not until 1987 that all mining activities ceased.

The Copper Basin Project

Throughout the 150 years of mining operations, numerous companies and individuals were involved in mining, refining and manufacturing in the area. In 1963, Cities Service Company acquired certain properties and assets in the Copper Basin from the Tennessee Corporation. In 1982, Occidental Petroleum Corporation acquired Cities Service Company and all its assets (and liabilities). In the same year, Cities Service Company sold its Copper Basin assets to the Tennessee Chemical Company which filed for bankruptcy in 1989.

Neither Glenn Springs Holdings, Inc. nor its parent company, Occidental Petroleum Corporation, were ever engaged in any mining activities in the Copper Basin. Occidental Petroleum acquired Cities Service, Inc. after all mining operations had been sold to the Tennessee Chemical Company.

In 1987, the EPA began investigating the site and documented its negative environmental impact. Since the only remaining stakeholder was Occidental Petroleum Corporation, Occidental agreed to remediate the site in good faith in keeping with the company's commitment to environmental stewardship.

Glenn Springs Holdings, Inc. (a wholly owned subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Corporation), the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and the EPA began stabilizing and partially revegetating the area. In 2001, the parties entered into a formal, collaborative agreement to provide an overall framework and establish roles and responsibilities for the cleanup efforts.

Dates in copper mining history...

an excerpT from On the Oil Lands with Cities Service by William Donohue Ellis (pdf)


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