Mining And Its Impact On The Environment – Can mining ever be sustainable? It is a crucial question if we want to use our planet’s limited natural resources more sustainably. Find out here.
Can mining ever be sustainable? It is a crucial question if we want to use our planet’s limited natural resources more sustainably. The argument that mining will provide the natural resources needed for the green revolution (lithium, nickel, cobalt and other battery metals) is compelling, but the larger question of how to manage this in the long term is still up for debate.
- 1 Mining And Its Impact On The Environment
- 2 What Is The Environmental Impact Of The Coal Industry?
- 3 We Could Need 6 Times More Of The Minerals Used For Renewables And Batteries. How Can We Avoid A Huge Increase In Mining Impacts?
Mining And Its Impact On The Environment
Mineral extraction is, by definition, the extraction of a non-renewable natural resource, so finding ways to guarantee sustainable development for future generations is complex and multifaceted.
What Is The Environmental Impact Of The Coal Industry?
If we want to make mining more sustainable, we need to know its biggest impacts so we can improve and mitigate them at their source. According to Alaskans for Responsible Mining, a non-governmental organization speaking at the Western Mining Action Network (WMAN), mining can damage the soil, pollute air and drinking water, affect wildlife, habitats and permanently scar ecosystems.
There is still much work to be done to improve the safety and sustainable development of the life cycle of mines. Let’s look at the main areas of influence at the moment:
Since mining is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, carbon dioxide emissions are a major problem for the industry to solve. In order to combat these emissions, some countries have enacted regulations that require the use of emission credits. However, many countries still do not have CO2 emission codes. In places like China and Russia, environmental standards are minimal and sometimes non-existent, which is a big problem as China continues to ramp up its mining operations.
According to a report by McKinsey consultants, the mining industry produces between 1.9 and 5.1 gigatons of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) greenhouse gas emissions annually. Most emissions come from underground operations. Carbon emissions from mining, like emissions from any other industry, are the main causes of climate change.
Environmental Impact Of Oil Sands Extraction
Emissions can cause respiratory problems for local communities, as seen. Most of the carbon dioxide emissions from mining come from coal methane. In addition, a UN study states that the extraction and pretreatment of metals and other minerals are responsible for 20 percent of the health effects of air pollution and 26 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.
Molycorp is a prime example of a company that took over a mine and adapted its operations to more sustainable operating standards, what MIT simply calls “environmentally sensitive mining.”
Mountain Pass is a mine in the Clark Mountains of California, United States. It was then owned by Chevron and closed in 2002 for various reasons, including competition from China. In the past, it had produced most of the global supply of rare earths. In 2008, it was owned by Molycorp. The company implemented changes, including new tailings storage methods to reduce volatility and water recycling, as well as utilizing waste heat from operations to generate steam and electricity to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at the site.
Mining usually involves breaking down materials to obtain ores or other metals. This creates dust that can have several health effects, especially from coal mining. Riebeckite dust, a mineral dust similar to asbestos, can be absorbed into the lungs of humans and animals, causing pneumoconiosis and silicosis, better known as “black lung”. Dust can also be generated from mine chimneys.
What Is The Environmental Impact Of The Mining Industry?
When fluorine is mined, flue dust can be present in the flue (8.5 kg fluorine/ton of flue dust), which are also harmful to human health when consumed in high concentrations, as they are associated with skeletal fluorosis.
When mining radioactive minerals such as uranium, it is possible for these radioactive chemicals to leach into the environment. These chemicals are called radionuclides and they can contaminate water bodies near these mines.
Although some studies, including in Portugal (an area rich in uranium), suggest that the concentrations of these chemicals are within acceptable limits, the leaching becomes very dangerous. For example, an acid and metal spill from Zortman’s Landusky mine in Montana damaged biological life in a dozen streams in the Little Rocky Mountains. The mine has experienced more than a dozen cyanide spills, including one that released 50,000 gallons of cyanide solution and contaminated the community’s drinking water supply.
The ore mined in metal mines (such as gold, silver, copper, etc.) is often rich in sulphide minerals. The mining process exposes these sulfides to water and air, and together they react to form sulfuric acid. Acid mine leachate can be released from mines anywhere sulfides are exposed to air and water. This includes waste rock piles, open pit tailings, extraction pads and underground tunnels. This has a major impact on fish, animals and plants. Many of the currents you hit can have a pH of 4 or lower – the same pH as battery acid.
We Could Need 6 Times More Of The Minerals Used For Renewables And Batteries. How Can We Avoid A Huge Increase In Mining Impacts?
Robinson Dam in Randfontein, South Africa, contaminated and highly radioactive with uranium and iron pyrite from years of acid mine drainage.
Cyanide is often used to extract metals from oxidized ores. Yet cyanide in leaching ponds is known to cause wildlife mortality. In California, for example, between 1980 and 1989, 7,613 animals died from exposure to cyanide in leaching ponds in the state and in Nevada and Arizona.
Also, all these problems are not only caused by currently operating mines, but abandoned mines can leave a legacy of significant environmental damage that can last for decades and even centuries. Acid mine drainage is particularly harmful because it can go on indefinitely.
This could be due to, for example, the release of cyanide and mercury into watercourses, or simply the bifurcation of natural wildlife corridors. This is a huge problem especially in gold mining. For example, the Lihiri gold mine in Papua New Guinea dumps more than 5 million tons of toxic waste into the Pacific Ocean every year. This destroys corals and other ocean life and pollutes waterways both locally and downstream.
Acid Mine Drainage
Mining can also affect people’s health. Leakage of toxic chemicals into local food chains can lead to health problems and, in some cases, even cancer. Coal dust still affects many people due to black lung disease, and the mining of other materials can cause many other health problems for miners and those living nearby. Thousands die every year in mining accidents and health problems. Of course, the mining industry has made a concerted effort over the past decade to address these issues, but much remains to be done.
The worst impacts on the environment and human health are caused by strip mining (also called open pit mining), which still accounts for 80 percent of mining in Australia and 40 percent globally. Mining erodes topsoil due to water runoff (leading to chemicals leaching into waterways) and can destroy local forests, habitats and landscapes. Its effects on human health are also considerable, such as respiratory problems due to dust and water pollution and shortages in vulnerable communities.
Underground mining accounts for the majority of mining activity worldwide. It may cause fewer environmental problems on the surface, but the indirect effects are also large. Underground Mining displaces huge amounts of soil to the surface, the extraction of which requires a huge amount of energy, which of course increases energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. It can also lead to subsidence, which can be a hazard to buildings and people above.
The amount of waste brought to the surface can also contain a cocktail of toxic waste that can harm the health of the local population through drinking water or airborne contamination and pollution. Mining can also lower local and even national water tables because large amounts of water are needed to sift through material to obtain metals and other mined resources. This pressure on water capital is called “water stress,” and water scarcity is one of the biggest sustainability issues in the metals and mining industry, says Fitch Ratings.
Artisanal And Small Scale Mining
Methane gas released from underground coal mining is also another problem. Methane is a greenhouse gas twenty times stronger than carbon dioxide. Although much of this is currently collected for use in electricity generation, there are many cases, such as in China, where large amounts of methane have been accidentally released due to unsustainable mining practices. Although methane can be used as a power source, its effects on climate change are considerable if it is not recovered. This has indirect effects on human health also due to respiratory diseases caused by increased greenhouse gas emissions.
If all that isn’t enough, there’s also the issue of underground coal fires that can burn for centuries, adding smoke filled with carbon monoxide. This smoke may also contain carbon dioxide, methane, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide, as well as fly ash. All of these increase climate change emissions that affect environmental resilience in the poorest communities and cause health problems.
The International Journal of Coal Geology notes that proximity to the source of coal fire pollution and smoldering combustion increases the risk of local communities being exposed to high concentrations of known toxins such as aerosolized particulates. The paper states
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