Mark Albertsen, Smelter Manager and Rick Albertsen, Electrical Maintenance Supervisor
Hot metal flows and gasses are processed at Freeport-McMoRan’s smelter in Miami. Smelter Manager Mark Albertsen loves it here.
“I always told my wife that I would love to finish my career at the smelter,” he says.
After 41 years in the industry, Mark manages one of two operating smelters in the U.S. and a team of 450 employees.
“You have to have a lot of energy and love for what you do,” he says. “The workforce here has that. They do some of the toughest work within our organization.”
The Miami smelter processes copper concentrate from Freeport-McMoRan’s Arizona and New Mexico copper mines. It is also a significant source of sulphuric acid, a by-product of smelting concentrates that is used in the leaching operations.
Miami’s smelter was the first smelting operation to commercially utilize IsaSmelt™ technology, a fully enclosed system that meets the toughest emissions standard. The large scrubber, with condensation coming out of its stack, is designed to make sure virtually no emissions get released into the air. Copper concentrate smelted in Miami makes its way to a refinery in El Paso and becomes copper rod, all within Freeport-McMoRan operations.
“Rock to rod,” Mark says. “Freeport-McMoRan takes it from the earth, all the way to rod, which many customers turn into wire and cable products.” (108)
From Laborer to Leader
Mark never thought about mining in his youth. He was going to be in the Doc Severinson band, as a drummer for a late-night show. While in pursuit of that dream, he took a summer student job at Sierrita operations near Tucson and swept and shoveled moly as a laborer.
“I was surrounded by equipment and machinery,” he says, “and was just fascinated by it.”
Mark worked his way up to operations. He was an instrumentation journeyman for several years, then held supervisory positions and maintenance planning. He was, “roasting concentrate and making acid” in Casa Grande prior to learning from the great smelter managers in the region. He has worked with coal, copper, cobalt and molybdenum in plants around the U.S. and abroad in Europe, Indonesia and Africa. He was working in the Phoenix corporate office in Health and Safety for several years before getting the call in February to return to Miami and manage the smelter.
“I have the greatest technical people here on the planet,” he says. “I spend the majority of my time making sure they have what they need to do their job well.”
That entails a lot of time in meetings, which begin at 7:30 a.m. each day with a review of the past 24 hours and a look at what’s coming up.
“Communication is key,” says Mark, “to achieve safety and production goals.”
The most satisfying aspect of his job, Mark says, is watching people on his team advance in the company. He notes his management style has adjusted over the years to the younger workforce; now more empowering, less directive: This is what I need. How can you provide it for me?
“We provide a lot of feedback,” Mark says. “Immediate feedback.”
Family Mining Lineage
Mark’s grandfather came to the U.S. from Denmark and got an instrumentation job in mining at the Homestake Gold Mine in South Dakota. Today Mark’s son, Rick Albertsen, is responsible for the instrumentation and automation that reports back to the smelter control room.
“The focus is on preventative maintenance vs. reactive maintenance,” Rick says.
Rick graduated from Miami High School and began his mining career as a laborer in the crusher at Sierrita. He obtained an electrical apprenticeship at Miami and earned an AA degree in Electrical Engineering and Instrumentation. He’s now an electrical maintenance supervisor at the Miami site, and his top priority is ensuring that employees are safe and inspecting for hazards before beginning a job.
“A worst-case scenario is that the plant shuts down,” Rick says.
Mark agrees, having experienced shutdowns over the years due to copper prices.
Last spring, concern of shutdown came from another source, Covid-19, and Freeport-McMoRan responded. Office personnel are working from home, but the smelter is a physical operation. Mark’s team needs to work together, but not too close, he says. They separated offices, took out the tape measures to ensure 6-foot social distancing, split day shift crews to help with social distancing and cut training class in half.
“I’ve seen it all, but I’ve never experienced anything like Covid-19,” Mark says, “It’s tough on everyone.”
For both father and son, the advantages of a career in mining are clear. The pay. The benefits. The camaraderie. Meeting people all over the world. When asked if he encouraged his children to pursue a career in mining, Mark says he did not.
“I did not encourage them one way or another,” he says. “They need to find their own path, their own passion.”
“For me,” declares Mark, “it’s molten metal.”
***This 12-part series on mining in the Globe-Miami-Superior region focuses on individuals who represent more than one generation of mining professionals.
A traveler, Patti Daley came to Globe in 2016 to face the heat, follow love, and find desert treasure. She writes in many formats and records travel scraps and other musings at daleywriting.com.