Happy days here again for NM mine industry – by Kevin Robinson-Avila (Abuquerque Journal – June 22, 2015)


The Great Recession cut the bottom out of most mining operations in New Mexico but, in general, the industry is now back on a steady growth path and one sector – potash production in southeast New Mexico – is downright booming.

Overall, total income from mining operations statewide reached a record high in 2013 at $2.8 billion. That’s up from a low of $1.7 billion reported in 2009 during the throes of recession and it’s 27 percent higher than the state’s previous record of $2.2 billion before the economy crashed.

That’s good news for the New Mexico economy, particularly in rural areas, where mining now directly employs about 7,100 people. That represents a nearly 40 percent growth in jobs since 2009, when layoffs in copper production hit the Silver City area, contributing to a 28 percent statewide plummet in mining employment.

And some major new projects could be coming online in the next few years. That includes a huge new potash mine in Lea County, a copper operation near Hillsboro, and the state’s first magnesium mining and processing complex near Deming.

Industry performance for 2014 isn’t yet available from the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, but Mining and Minerals Division Director Fernando Martínez said most mining operations continue to show fairly steady growth.

“We probably won’t have another record year in terms of value, but we’ll be within the same ballpark of 2013,” Martínez said. “In general, the mining industry is holding pretty steady despite a fluctuation in commodity prices.”

Potash is spearheading state growth. Production from mines near Carlsbad in Eddy County have leapt by 170 percent since 2010, from 813,000 short tons to 2.19 million. That drove revenue from potash – primarily used as a fertilizer for a variety of agricultural crops – to an unprecedented high of $915 million in 2013, up from $512 million in 2010.

New Mexico was already the No. 1 potash producer in the U.S. But production growth in the past few years has now elevated it to New Mexico’s largest mining commodity, dethroning King Coal and copper, the state’s two long-time front-runners.

Potash boom

The growth comes from Intrepid Potash Inc., which opened a new mine in 2013 near Carlsbad. That company, a publicly traded firm billed as the largest potash producer in the U.S., already operated two mines and processing facilities in Eddy County.

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