Blasting a New Path in the Way That We Mine

For most of our history, the biggest obstacle to human deep rock mining could be summed up as “too much water, not enough air.” (Lecain, 44) All that changed with the advent  of coal as a fuel source and the steam engine. We can see how technological advances have allowed humans to push even deeper into the earth, aided by giant dewatering pumps and ventilation machines, we’re to dig deeper than ever before in the search for metal ores. Less a century later, through the use of oil and gasoline powered machines, engineers in Butte and Anaconda were able to push even further, so deep in fact as to give the city of Butte its motto, “A mile high, a mile deep.” Although an impressive feat, it’s further compounded by the fact that the new technologies allowed mining to take place “not only in an underground space, but in what had been an underwater space” (LeCain, 44). It is also around this time that “oxygen breathing apparatus” begin to make an appearance. Used as a substitute to pumping oxygen into the mine shafts, these portable masks recycled the air being exhaled by the miners themselves allowing them to brave toxic air environments of part of the caves. In addition to technological advances, “improvements in mapping and measuring allowed for the rationalization and systemazation of mining” (LeCain, 36). This is clearly evident in the ways that new mines were being laid out. However, mining is inherently environmentally damaging with the process of crushing ores releasing heavy metals, a problem that will remain long after the mines closure.  (LeCain, 43, 45, 49, 52, Sandlost and Keeley)

With the way that we understand our environment today, mining needs to be a safe proposition for all. While we cant change how it was done in the past, any new mines need to have a long term plan for dealing with any waste created from the mine. The problem of leakage needs to be addressed as well, not just the aesthetic damages. The west has gone through its industrialization period and should focus on reducing the impact we have on the environment.

3 thoughts on “Blasting a New Path in the Way That We Mine”

  1. I agree that mining needs to be a safe proposition for all. Long term, sustainable, clean up plans for new mines is absolutely necessary but is it feasible? What happens when money runs out when companies declare bankruptcy, or owners die?
    After the Superfund lecture today, I’m thinking that with the billions of dollars it costs to do clean up at thousands of sites nationwide, do we have enough resources to afford this? Is it reasonable to use resources as a sort of band-aid in our own country while outsourcing the mineral extraction to countries with less strict laws? Using the ecosystem model, maybe it would be more advantageous to focus resources on ensuring mines worldwide are being responsible in both their longterm and short-term operations. If we don’t do this, we’re worse than the miners from 100 years ago because we know the consequences of mining wastes and poor working conditions.

  2. I agree with you that mining is not environmentally friendly and we need to make it safer if we want to continue doing this. The problem is big companies are not going to wait until we can figure out a safe way to mine, instead they are going to continue to mine despite all of the negative effects it has on the environment. Mining is simply to profitable to be stopped in the eyes of the company owners. I agree we need to find a solution for the waste from the mine and the leakage that occurs. This needs to happen fast because mining companies aren’t going to wait for safer technology to come out.

  3. Mining has historically obviously been a destructive process to people and the environment. I agree that we need to clean areas that have been contaminated by mining but how do you propose we do that? It has already been proven to be extremely difficult to clean up mines with the technology we have today and the amount of money spent so I wonder how we will be able to do that going forward. Also, do you think the industrialization of the west is over? Some of the fastest growing communities in the continent are in the American west. It also seems like we still aren’t even taking the necessary precautions to protect the open land we have left. Hopefully some day we will have a new approach.

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