Oil and gas mining, coal mining, and metal ore mining are some of the types of mining that have received scrutiny over the years.
Despite the jobs, economic boost, and resources they provide, the negative effects they can have on the environment (land, water and air), wildlife/animals and humans (health, and invasion of rights – in developed and developing countries) can be significant in some countries.
In this guide we look at the types of mining, the impact of mining, potential solutions and mining site restoration.
Summary – Negative Effects Of Mining
- On one hand, mining provides jobs and income, stimulates the economy, and provides us with critical resources such fossil fuels for energy production, and metals for a range of uses. In some developing countries for example, mining is the only source of income and livelihood for some people (they depend on it)
- But, on the other hand, mining can have wide ranging negative effects on the environment, wildlife and humans
- In many countries, mining is one of the leading sectors that produces waste, along with the construction sector
- Environmentally, potential negative effects of mining can include air, land/soil and water pollution of different kinds. Mining produces tailing waste, and can leach toxic chemicals, heavy metals and air pollutants. This can lead to air pollution via air contaminants, release of greenhouse gases like methane and CO2, leaching of toxic chemicals into freshwater sources like rivers, lakes and streams, or dumping straight into the ocean, and degradation of huge amounts of land and soil (leading to soil erosion, soil contamination, damage to soil structure etc.). Sedimentation can be an issue where displaced soil gets into water sources and creates issues, as can subsistence be an issue, where land that has been dug out can collapse. Lowering of the water table, and coal fires (which can last a long time) can be an issue at some mines. Mining also uses a lot of water and electricity, and other energy for on-site mining equipment and vehicles – so it isn’t great from a sustainability perspective.
- From a wildlife perspective, there can be a loss of habitat, elimination of species numbers (from land clearing and contamination of water and soil), and loss of biodiversity.
- From a human perspective, mining workers’ lives and safety can be at risk (some mines are reported for gross human rights violations and for exploiting workers in dangerous conditions or by exposing them to hazardous air and chemicals), and local populations can be displaced or their health put at risk from exposure to mining waste or the chemicals it releases.
- From a cost perspective, not only are mining operations and on-site expenses huge, but mining exploration and testing mining sites are very expensive too
- Some mining land sites can never be restored to be anything valuable post mining activity – but, some can be restored in different ways (such as being made into parks). Some say mining site restoration funds would be better spent buying separate land elsewhere and building up that area for plant/tree life, wildlife and environmental conservation
- There are A LOT of potential negative effects at mine sites that aren’t properly managed, or that don’t have environmental, human, plant life and wildlife protection in place.
- Mining has improved in the last few decades in developed countries, but some developing countries lag far behind
- Mining can get better in many ways – one of the biggest ways is by better/safer management and disposal of mining waste, and better reporting of this waste management and treatment (especially for hazardous waste and waste that can contaminate other sources).
- Other major ways might involve minimise mining activities in the first place by focussing on how renewable energy can help use fossil fuels (that we mine for) less frequently, and focussing on how recycling and re-using metals already mined and in use can save us from future mining (this will be particularly important in the future with the heavy use of batteries for energy storage and electric cars). We might also look at above ground alternatives to the resources we currently mine – lab grown resources and science might be able to help us in this regard
- Other ways to help improve mining might be to start a transition to sustainable energy on-site, treat and re-use/recycle water on-site, preventing leaching and releasing of hazardous and toxic chemicals and substances and gases from mining procedures and activities, improve mining related laws and regulations, have minimum required workplace conditions, compensation and safety enforced, and by doing pre and post mining site assessments more thoroughly for impact on humans (local populations and humans), wild life and the environment.
What Is Mining?
Mining is the extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials from the earth.
Mining is required to obtain any material that cannot be grown through agricultural processes, or created artificially in a laboratory or factory.
Different Types Of Mining
The main types of mining are surface mining, and underground mining.
Today, surface mining is much more common, and produces, for example, 85% of minerals (excluding petroleum and natural gas) in the United States, including 98% of metallic ores.
Ores recovered by mining include metals, coal, oil shale, gemstones, limestone, chalk, dimension stone, rock salt, potash, gravel, and clay.
Mining in a wider sense includes extraction of any non-renewable resource such as petroleum, natural gas, or even water.
Mining operations can be grouped into five major categories in terms of their respective resources. These are:
- oil and gas extraction,
- coal mining,
- metal ore mining,
- nonmetallic mineral mining and quarrying,
- and mining support activities.
Of all of these categories, oil and gas extraction remains one of the largest in terms of its global economic importance.
Coal mining also receives attention for having a significant impact on the environment and wildlife.
What The Mining Industry Looks Like Worldwide, & By Different Countries
The dependency of various high-tech-industries on rare earths is a recent issue – coal, on the other hand, is still one of the leading global energy resources. Consequently, the mining sector is pivotal to the world’s economy. The global top 40 companies, which represent a vast majority of the whole industry, reported some 496 billion U.S. dollars of revenue in 2016.
In terms of volume, the most exploited commodities worldwide are coal, iron ore, bauxite, and potash. China and the United States are the top coal producing countries. Iron ore mining is also dominated by China, with Australia in second place. Thus, China is becoming the top mining country for many commodities, especially for the highly demanded rare earths, of which China produced over 83 percent of the global production in 2016. Additionally, China is the world’s leading country in the mine production of gold.
In 2016, there were a total of 13,089 mining operations that reported mine operator employment. The commodity breakdown was 1,289 coal, 306 metal, 906 nonmetal, 4,298 stone, and 6,290 sand & gravel mines.
In the United States, mining has always played an important role. Its relevance increases all the more whenever mining includes the extraction of oil and gas, and support activities for mining, as some sources do. The total U.S. mining gross output in 2015 amounted to 449 billion U.S. dollars, a notable decrease from the gross output in the previous year. In the same year, the whole sector employed around 748 thousand people.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) June 2011 Labour Force Survey, the top three sectors for employment within the mining industry are:
- Metal Ore Mining; 71,700 people; 34.8 per cent
- Coal Mining; 48,500 people; 23.6 per cent
- Exploration; 27,300; 13.3 per cent
What Does The Mining Process Generally Involve?
Generally it involves:
- Prospecting for ore bodies or other resources
- Analysis of the profit potential of a proposed mine
- Extraction of the desired materials, and
- Final reclamation of the land after the mine is closed (the process of restoring land that has been mined to a natural or economically usable state)
Negative Effects Of Mining, & Mining Problems For The Environment, Animals & Humans
There are different practices and different regulations and laws for mining in different countries. Therefore, the effects of mining and problems created will be different from country to country.
There are environmental (water, land, air, wildlife), and human (safety, human rights, injury, death) effects and problems.
- Formation of sinkholes
- Loss of biodiversity
- Contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water by chemicals from mining processes
- In some cases, additional forest logging is done in the vicinity of mines to create space for the storage of the created debris and soil.
- Contamination resulting from leakage of chemicals can also affect the health of the local population if not properly controlled.
- Extreme examples of pollution from mining activities include coal fires, which can last for years or even decades, producing massive amounts of environmental damage.
- Coal mining, the first step in the dirty lifecycle of coal, causes deforestation and releases toxic amounts of minerals and heavy metals into the soil and water. The effects of mining coal persists for years after coal is removed.
- Acid Mine Drainage affects the environment and human lives in South Africa
- Bad mining practices can ignite coal fires, which can burn for decades, release fly ash and smoke laden with greenhouse gasses and toxic chemicals.
- Mining releases coal mine methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
- Coal mining contaminates water supplies.
- Strip Mining has extensive environmental impact:
- Strip mining destroys landscapes, forests and wildlife habitats at the site of the mine when trees, plants, and topsoil are cleared from the mining area. This in turn leads to soil erosion and destruction of agricultural land.
- When rain washes the loosened top soil into streams, sediments pollute waterways. This can hurt fish and smother plant life downstream, and cause disfiguration of river channels and streams, which leads to flooding.
- There is an increased risk of chemical contamination of ground water when minerals in upturned earth seep into the water table, and watersheds are destroyed when disfigured land loses the water it once held.
- Strip mining causes dust and noise pollution when top soil is disrupted with heavy machinery and coal dust is created in mines.
- Land restoration is also an issue with strip mining
- Underground Mining has extensive environmental impact:
- Underground mining causes huge amounts of waste earth and rock to be brought to the surface – waste that often becomes toxic when it comes into contact with air and water.
- It causes subsidence as mines collapse and the land above it starts to sink. This causes serious damage to buildings.
- It lowers the water table, changing the flow of groundwater and streams. In Germany for example, over 500 million cubic metres of water are pumped out of the ground every year. Only a small percentage of this is used by industry or local towns – the rest is wasted. What’s worse is that removing so much water creates a kind of funnel that drains water from an area much larger than the immediate coal-mining environment.
- Coal mining also produces greenhouse gas emissions.
- Unregulated mining has the potential to release harmful substances into the soil, air, and water.
- Open pit mining – Environmental hazards are present during every step of the open-pit mining process. Hardrock mining exposes rock that has lain unexposed for geological eras. When crushed, these rocks expose radioactive elements, asbestos-like minerals, and metallic dust. During separation, residual rock slurries, which are mixtures of pulverized rock and liquid, are produced as tailings, toxic and radioactive elements from these liquids can leak into bedrock if not properly contained.
- Underground mining – has the potential for tunnel collapses and land subsidence (Betournay, 2011)
- Additionally, like most traditional forms of mining, underground mining can release toxic compounds into the air and water. As water takes on harmful concentrations of minerals and heavy metals, it becomes a contaminant. This contaminated water can pollute the region surrounding the mine and beyond (Miranda, Blanco-Uribe Q., Hernandez, Ochoa G., & Yerena, 1998).
- Mercury is commonly used in as an amalgamating agent to facilitate the recovery of some precious ores (Miranda et al., 1998). Mercury tailings then become a major source of concern, and improper disposal can lead to contamination of the atmosphere and neighboring bodies of water.
- Most underground mining operations increase sedimentation in nearby rivers through their use of hydraulic pumps and suction dredges; blasting with hydraulic pumps removes ecologically valuable topsoil containing seed banks, making it difficult for vegetation to recover (Miranda et al., 1998).
- Deforestation due to mining leads to the disintegration of biomes and contributes to the effects of erosion.
- Insitu Leach Mining – ISL mining has environmental and safety advantages over conventional mining in that the ore body is dissolved and then pumped out, leaving minimal surface disturbance and no tailings or waste rock (World Nuclear Association, 2012). There is no ore dust or direct ore exposure to the environment and a lower consumption of water is needed in the mining process (International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], 2005). However, the strong acids used to dissolve the ore body commonly dissolve metals in the host rock as well. The fluids remaining after the leaching process commonly contain elevated concentrations of metals and radioactive isotopes, posing a significant risk to nearby ground and surface water sources (IAEA, 2005). Additionally, the low pH of ISL mining wastewater can result in acidification of the surrounding environment.
- Other types of mining that can result in environmental damage are Heap Leaching and Brine Mining
- Specific contaminant materials from the mining process are Radionuclides, and Dust & Metal
- Additional environmental issues with mining are Carbon Output (causing air pollution), Erosion (causing land pollution) and Endangered Species Habitat, Water Use and Wastewater (using water and polluting water)
- Case studies on negative environmental impacts of mining can be found for Greenland, China, and Molycorp
- The cost of inaction/action with mining when it comes to environmental damage is:
- If no action is taken to remediate the many environmental problems inherent to modern mining, the end cost for governments and communities would be devastating. Already mines in China release 9,600 to 12,000 cubic meters of toxic gas containing flue dust concentrate, hydrofluoric acid, sulfur dioxide, and sulfuric acid for each ton of rare earth elements produced. Additionally, nearly 75 cubic meters of acidic waste water and one ton of radioactive waste residue are generated (Paul & Campbell, 2011). Preemptive actions such as stricter regulations and proper waste disposal strategies can reduce the costs of environmental damage, and in some cases pay for themselves. For example: the US company Molycorp spent 10 million USD on its paste-tailings operation, but the water and chemical reagents it was able to recycle saved have already paid for the installment, in addition to generating less waste. “Although the operating cost of the paste tailings operation is expected to be greater than it would be for a tailings pond… we expect that increased water recycling and reduced environmental risks associated with the paste tailings facility will ultimately mitigate that additional cost”
- Environmental contaminants associated with mining activities may affect wildlife species in many ways and at many levels within the ecosystem. Some contaminants associated with mines (e.g., lead, arsenic, cyanide, etc.) may cause acute or chronic effects on resident wildlife.
- Tailings and associated heavy metal contamination are dumped from mining sites, and can cause negative impact on wildlife, and also cause water pollution
Mining affects the environment and wildlife in the following ways:
- Habitat Loss – when the land is cleared before mining. This can involve deforestation/clearing of forests and trees. Animals lose their immediate habitat, and must relocate to another habitat. Animals also lose shade from the sun, and cover from predators. Explosions on mountain tops and mountain mining can also cause habitat loss for some animals.
- Pollution – At the most basic level, mining requires clearing of trees that hold soil in place. The process can disturb the ground and wash the soil into waterways. The increase in sediment is not poisonous, but it can still upset the delicate balance of the aquatic ecosystem by changing growing conditions and eventually alter the shape of the river. Toxic chemicals and minerals from mining could go to streams, rivers, and other bodies of water which can create harmful effects to marine species. The mining process exposes bodies of water to heavy metals and toxic minerals like selenium which can negatively impact the human and the marine lives.
- Water Loss – Mining cause the water table to shrink. Water often seeps into areas that contain coal and other valuable products, and that water needs to be pumped out of the mine to allow the miners to work. Aside from pollution, the process would also cause water loss in the ground. Some mines have to collect water for use as a dust suppressant, which puts more strain on the local water supply. Nearby residents who depend on wells for their water supply can also get affected. They will need to drill even deeper to ensure that they have access to water. When the water loss from mining is combined with another large source of strain on the supply, it can lead to a shortage, which can contribute to the destruction of ecosystems.
- Climate Change – Mining is one of the most common methods for extracting fossil fuel from the ground. Fossil fuels can be used to power mining machinery. Although useful, burning fossil fuels release greenhouse gasses into the air which contributes to climate change. Many mines produce methane as a waste product. Methane is a relatively potent greenhouse gas; even a small amount of it can gradually worsen climate change. Coal mines are responsible for approximately six percent of the methane that is released due to human activities.
- Abandoned Mines – contaminants are left on site sometimes, and subsistence can happen whereby the mine isn’t backfilled adequately, and the soil can collapse
- The legacy of the global mineral boom is social conflict, human rights violations and environmental devastation across Asia, Latin America and Africa, says a global investigation into hundreds of the world’s mineral mines.
- As angry communities in Colorado last week counted the cost of a toxic spill from an old gold mine, a new atlas of 600 international mining and oil companies has identified more than 1,500 ongoing conflicts raging over water, land, spills, pollution, ill-health, relocations, waste, land grabs, floods and falling water levels.
- The EU-funded report by academics at 23 universities and environmental justice groups in Africa, India and Latin America has identified 142 disputes involving gold mines, 130 at coal mines, 96 at copper mines and 73 at silver mines, with India, Colombia, Nigeria, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and the Philippines having the most. They ranged from longstanding legal disputes to armed conflicts.
- The companies whose mines have attracted the most accusations of human rights abuses and environmental conflict are some of the largest in the world, mostly listed on the London stock exchange. They include AngloGold Ashanti, Rio Tinto, Barrick Gold, BHP Billiton, Glencore Xstrata and Newmont Mining. Between them they are involved in 75 conflicts in countries ranging from Colombia, Burma and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the US, Zambia and the Philippines, says the database.
– theguardian.com, and ejatlas.org
- Often mines for gold, copper and titanium create holes in the earth that are miles wide, thousands of feet deep and pollute groundwater and endanger natural habitats of wildlife and animals over wide areas.
- Local governments are often swayed by the large mining corporations with promises of jobs and other financial rewards and ignore the costs to health and the environment.
- Mining Waste…
- Ore mills generate large amounts of waste, called tailings.
- For example, 99 tons of waste are generated per ton of copper, with even higher ratios in gold mining – because only 5.3 g of gold is extracted per ton of ore, a ton of gold produces 200,000 tons of tailings. (As time goes on and richer deposits are exhausted – and technology improves to permit – this number is going down to .5 g and less.)
- These tailings can be toxic.
- Tailings, which are usually produced as a slurry, are most commonly dumped into ponds made from naturally existing valleys.
- These ponds are secured by impoundments (dams or embankment dams).
- In 2000, it was estimated that 3,500 tailings impoundments existed, and that every year, 2 to 5 major failures and 35 minor failures occurred; for example, in the Marcopper mining disaster at least 2 million tons of tailings were released into a local river.
- In central Finland, Talvivaara Terrafame polymetal mine waste effluent since 2008 and numerous leaks of saline mine water has resulted in ecological collapse of nearby lake.
- Subaqueous tailings disposal is another option.
- The mining industry has argued that submarine tailings disposal (STD), which disposes of tailings in the sea, is ideal because it avoids the risks of tailings ponds; although the practice is illegal in the United States and Canada, it is used in the developing world.
- The waste is classified as either sterile or mineralised, with acid generating potential, and the movement and storage of this material forms a major part of the mine planning process.
- When the mineralised package is determined by an economic cut-off, the near-grade mineralised waste is usually dumped separately with view to later treatment should market conditions change and it becomes economically viable.
- Civil engineering design parameters are used in the design of the waste dumps, and special conditions apply to high-rainfall areas and to seismically active areas.
- Waste dump designs must meet all regulatory requirements of the country in whose jurisdiction the mine is located.
- It is also common practice to rehabilitate dumps to an internationally acceptable standard, which in some cases means that higher standards than the local regulatory standard are applied.
- Mining energy use…
- Many mining sites are remote and not connected to the grid.
- Electricity is typically generated with diesel generators.
- Due to high transportation cost and theft during transportation the cost for generating electricity is normally high.
- Renewable energy applications are becoming an alternative or amendment.
- Both solar and wind power plants can contribute in saving diesel costs at mining sites. Renewable energy applications have been built at mining sites.
- Cost savings can reach up to 70%.
More resources for the environmental effects of mining are…
Human Safety – Human Rights, Injury, & Death
- Safety has long been a concern in the mining business, especially in sub-surface mining.
- The Courrières mine disaster, Europe’s worst mining accident, involved the death of 1,099 miners in Northern France on March 10, 1906. This disaster was surpassed only by the Benxihu Colliery accident in China on April 26, 1942, which killed 1,549 miners.
- While mining today is substantially safer than it was in previous decades, mining accidents still occur.
- Government figures indicate that 5,000 Chinese miners die in accidents each year, while other reports have suggested a figure as high as 20,000.
- Mining accidents continue worldwide, including accidents causing dozens of fatalities at a time such as the 2007 Ulyanovskaya Mine disaster in Russia, the 2009 Heilongjiang mine explosion in China, and the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in the United States. Mining has been identified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) as a priority industry sector in the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) to identify and provide intervention strategies regarding occupational health and safety issues. The Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) was established in 1978 to “work to prevent death, illness, and injury from mining and promote safe and healthful workplaces for US miners.” Since its implementation in 1978, the number of miner fatalities has decreased from 242 miners in 1978 to 28 miners in 2015.
- There are numerous occupational hazards associated with mining, including exposure to rockdust which can lead to diseases such as silicosis, asbestosis, and pneumoconiosis. Gases in the mine can lead to asphyxiation and could also be ignited. Mining equipment can generate considerable noise, putting workers at risk for hearing loss. Cave-ins, rock falls, and exposure to excess heat are also known hazards. The current NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limit (REL) of noise is 85 dBA with a 3 dBA exchange rate and the MSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) is 90 dBA with a 5 dBA exchange rate as an 8-hour time-weighted average. NIOSH has found that 25% of noise-exposed workers in Mining, Quarrying, and Oil and Gas Extraction have hearing impairment. The prevalence of hearing loss increased by 1% from 1991-2001 within these workers.
- Noise studies have been conducted in several mining environments. Stageloaders (84-102 dBA), shearers (85-99 dBA), auxiliary fans (84-120 dBA), continuous mining machines (78-109 dBA), and roof bolters (92-103 dBA) represent some of the noisiest equipment in underground coal mines. Dragline oilers, dozer operators, and welders using air arcing were occupations with the highest noise exposures among surface coal miners. Coal mines had the highest hearing loss injury likelihood.
- Proper ventilation, hearing protection, and spraying equipment with water are important safety practices in mines.
- Soaring worldwide demand for the minerals used in electronic devices such as smartphones and laptops has left a legacy of social conflict and human rights violations across Asia, Latin America and Africa.
- The amount of mining fatalities among 28 of the world’s 40 largest miners which disclosed their safety statistics has reduced by 37 per cent.
- Out of 22 companies which reported injury frequency rate statistics, 15 reported improvements or remained consistent in 2017 with the previous year.
- More than half of the fatalities disclosed occurred in markets such as India and South Africa.
- Coal dust inhalation causes black lung disease among miners and those who live nearby, and mine accidents kill thousands every year.
- Coal mining displaces whole communities, forced off their land by expanding mines, coal fires, subsidence and contaminated water supplies.
- Common health threats posed by coal mining are:
- Pneumoconiosis, aka black lung disease or CWP, is caused when miners breathe in coal dust and carbon, which harden the lungs. Estimates show that 1,200 people in the US still die from black lung disease annually. The situation in developing countries is even worse.
- Cardiopulmonary disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, lung disease, and kidney disease have been found in higher-than-normal rates among residents who live near coal mines, according to a 2001 US study.
- Toxic levels of arsenic, fluorine, mercury, and selenium are emitted by coal fires, entering the air and the food chain of those living nearby.
- Mine collapses and accidents kill thousands of workers around the world every year. Chinese coal mine accidents killed 4,700 people in 2006.
Further Resources for mining dangers and safety are:
How Much Water Does Mining Use?
- In 2015, mining withdrawals in the US were 1% of total water withdrawals
How Much Waste Does Mining Does Mining Produce?
Industrial waste is hard to measure and report. But, there are some sources that report industrial waste with mining included:
Waste generation in EU-28 in 2012 by sector was:
- Construction – 33%
- Mining & Quarrying – 29%
- Manufacturing – 11%
- Households – 8%
- Waste Treatment – 7%
- Services – 5%
- Energy Supply – 4%
- Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing – 2%
- Wholesale Of Waste & Scrap – 1%
- Water Treatment – 1%
Estimated Total Annual Waste by Sector in the UK in 2004 was:
- Construction & Demolition – 31.7%
- Mining & Quarrying – 28.8%
- Industrial – 12.5%
- Commercial – 12.3%
- Household – 9.5%
- Dredged Materials – 4.7%
- Sewage Sludge – 0.6%
- Agriculture (inc. Fishing) – 0.2%
In 2008, total waste generation in the EU-27 by sector was
- Construction – 32.9%
- Mining – 27.8%
- Manufacturing – 13.1%
- Household – 8.5%
- Waste & Water Management – 7.3%
- Other Sectors – 5.3%
- Energy Sector – 3.5%
- Agriculture/Forestry – 1.7%
Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Mining
Resources and stats on greenhouse gas emissions from the mining sector:
- https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/9437fe27-64f4-4d16-b3f1-4e03c2f7b0d7/files/aust-emissions-projections-2016.pdf (refer to direct emissions in the industry sector – mining is one of the six) direct emissions industries along with energy, manufacturing, buildings, primary industries and military
- https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions (refer to direct emissions)
Potential Solutions To Mining Problems, & The Negative Effects Of Mining
Mining for metal ores and mining for fossil fuels are two of the biggest mining operations there are.
Two ways to minimise mining in the future might be to:
- Focus on how renewable energy can save us from using fossil fuels
- Focus on how recycling and re-using metals already mined and in use can save us from future mining (this will be particularly important in the future with the heavy use of batteries for energy storage and electric cars)
Apart from that …
Potential Solutions For Wildlife Problems
Once an area is mined – there’s not a lot that can be done apart from restoring habitats in the mining site restoration process.
Some effects of mining might be irreversible, such as species elimination from a particular area.
An assessment on the local wild life can be done prior to mining operations taking place to assess the risks such as this one.
Potential Solutions To Environmental Problems
Mining isn’t going to stop anytime soon, but it’s possible to lessen their negative impact on the environment and wildlife. Various groups are promoting environmentally-friendly mining. Among the proposed ideas include the following:
- Shutting down or heavily penalising unregulated and illegal mines (especially in poorer or less regulated countries)
- Enforcing accurate reporting of dumped toxic wastes
- Enforce proper management and treatment of all mining waste
- Backfilling mine sites and proper waste clean-up
- Encouraging and investing in the development of sustainable mining technology
- Improving mining legislation and regulation (emissions and air tax, land tax, water tax, etc.)
Responsible mining will not only save the environment and wildlife, but it can also ensure the safety of the people working in the mine and living in nearby areas.
- Mission 2016 proposes that governments enforce regulations on companies and use cutting-edge technology to reduce the damage from mining-related sources. As more mines open in countries with varying levels of environmental protection, it is increasingly vital that safeguards established by the Strategic Minerals Association (SMA) are in place before operations proceed (see the international regulation page).
- Mission 2016’s plan will increase recycling efforts, greener mining and refining techniques, reduce the cost of environmental damage on the surrounding community, and increase government involvement in the regulation of dirty mining practices.
- Signatures on petitions can stop mining in areas under serious threat – this has been done in Cambodia, India and Alaska for example
Currently, these are some of the standards and regulations in place for protecting the environmental issues to do with mining:
- … financing standards such as the Equator Principles, IFC environmental standards, and criteria for Socially responsible investing
- This was followed by the Global Mining Initiative which was begun by nine of the largest metals and mining companies and which led to the formation of the International Council on Mining and Metals, whose purpose was to “act as a catalyst” in an effort to improve social and environmental performance in the mining and metals industry internationally.
- The mining industry has provided funding to various conservation groups, some of which have been working with conservation agendas that are at odds with an emerging acceptance of the rights of indigenous people – particularly the right to make land-use decisions.
- Certification of mines with good practices occurs through the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). For example, ISO 9000 and ISO 14001, which certify an “auditable environmental management system”, involve short inspections, although they have been accused of lacking rigor. Certification is also available through Ceres’ Global Reporting Initiative, but these reports are voluntary and unverified. Miscellaneous other certification programs exist for various projects, typically through nonprofit groups.
The purpose of a 2012 EPS PEAKS paper was to provide evidence on policies managing ecological costs and maximise socio-economic benefits of mining using host country regulatory initiatives. It found existing literature suggesting donors encourage developing countries to:
- Make the environment-poverty link and introduce cutting-edge wealth measures and natural capital accounts.
- Reform old taxes in line with more recent financial innovation, engage directly with the companies, enacting land use and impact assessments, and incorporate specialised support and standards agencies.
- Set in play transparency and community participation initiatives using the wealth accrued.
Potential Solutions For Human Safety
In developing countries, companies and countries as a whole can enforce basic human and working rights for mining workers.
As far as funds will allow, developing country mining practices can start emulating developed country safety practices
- Have a zero fatality goal for mining worldwide
- Continue to develop automated technologies, aimed to increase efficiency and reduce human involvement in high safety risk operations
- Put additional funds overall into mining operations to avoid injuries and loss of life
- More comprehensive and detailed safety reporting from countries and businesses – China in particular – “Though there is limited disclosure of safety statistics by Chinese companies among the world’s Top 40, a 2018 PwC mining report noted that the Chinese Government has commenced an assessment of the safety fund requirements administered in 2014, suggesting its renewed attention on safety performance.”
- Have robust safety procedures
- Minimise worker fatigue
- Involve workers in safety planning and management more often and more closely
- Have comprehensive risk assessment
- Have in-depth incident investigation
- Have comprehensive pre mining activity safety assessments
- Protecting the human rights and employee rights of mining workers and local populations
Other Resources on solution for worker safety are:
Land Rehabilitation After Mining
Mining companies in most countries are required to follow stringent environmental and rehabilitation codes in order to minimize environmental impact and avoid impacting human health.
In developed countries, land reclamation may involve:
- environmental impact assessment
- development of environmental management plans
- mine closure planning (which must be done before the start of mining operations)
- and environmental monitoring during operation and after closure
However, in some areas, particularly in the developing world, government regulations may not be well enforced.
Restoration ecologists increasingly accept that it is not practically possible to replace what has been destroyed [once an area has been mined].
Rather than trying to paper over the cracks with mine restoration, it might be more effective to divert funding from mine site rehabilitation programs and use the money to buy and manage public and private nature conservation reserves.
To ensure completion of reclamation, or restoring mine land for future use, many governments and regulatory authorities around the world require that mining companies post a bond to be held in escrow until productivity of reclaimed land has been convincingly demonstrated, although if cleanup procedures are more expensive than the size of the bond, the bond may simply be abandoned. Since 1978 the mining industry has reclaimed more than 2 million acres (8,000 km²) of land in the United States alone. This reclaimed land has renewed vegetation and wildlife in previous mining lands and can even be used for farming and ranching.
18. http://web.mit.edu/12.000/www/m2016/finalwebsite/solutions/regulation.html (proposed international regulations on mining to protect the environment and worker safety)
24. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions (refer to direct emissions)