Gypsum mining in high gear to meet construction needs

Gypsum mining in high gear to meet construction needs

Arizona’s mining industry is helping to fuel the building boom throughout the Southwest.
Gypsum mines around the state, including one in Winkelman, indirectly are supplying contractors in Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas and other hot building markets with wallboard and cement, two essential building products.

Demand for the building materials has resulted in the expansion of gypsum mines in Arizona and the planned construction of a new wallboard factory in Eloy and a cement plant near Drake.
Arizona is among the top 10 U.S. producers of gypsum, a soft mineral that is used to make sheetrock and regulate the hardening of concrete.

Created by receding ancient seas, gypsum is blasted and scraped out of quarries across the state.

The state’s seven operating mines – four within 100 miles of Tucson – produce more than 2 million tons of gypsum per year, valued at $50 million. Producers are reluctant to reveal production figures, but Arizona Department of Mines and Mineral Resources reports that those figures have increased substantially in the past few years.

National Gypsum Co. is preparing to expand its mine near Winkelman, 70 miles northeast of Tucson, to support a new wallboard plant planned near Phoenix.

National Gypsum plans to build a $140 million plant, tentatively in Eloy, that would be capable of producing 1 billion square feet of wallboard per year, and employ about 100 people. That quantity of wallboard is enough to complete 100,000 average-size homes.

“We’ve been on a strong cycle,” said Randall Cecala, North American sales manager for Western Mining and Minerals. “Wallboard’s been strong, so has cement.”

Other mines produce gypsum for the state’s major cement plants in Rillito and Clarkdale.
The Verde gypsum mine near Camp Verde opened in 1959 to supply the Clarkdale plant that produced cement for the construction of Glen Canyon Dam in northern Arizona. The plant now is owned by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, and it still gets its gypsum from the Verde mine.

Because the mining of gypsum is a cyclical business that is tied to the construction industry, the apparent slowdown in that industry also could put the brakes on the production of cement, wallboard and gypsum.

“We envision things slowing a bit,” Cecala said.

Share this post