Mines and their not-so-minor consequences

Mining has been a staple in resource gathering for the better part of human history, as the earth itself holds many desirable materials that have broad array of uses depending on region and culture. Though mining has been around forever, it wasn’t until relatively recently that the technology and engineering practices behind extracting resources from the earth began to advance at an astonishingly rapid rate. Demand for large-scale industrial mining operations increased dramatically after Thomas Edison’s breakthroughs in the creation of large scale and efficient methods of generating electricity, and this subsequently challenged mining engineers to “develop the means for making the hidden underground world ‘visible'”(LeCain 36). As engineers developed new methods of accurately assessing mineral contents of undergrounds regions, they also made it possible to drill thousands of feet down, which often became a crucial hurdle to overcome when attempting to reach rich mineral deposits. Large and complex ventilation systems, and new ways of keeping miners (relatively) cool were also in demand due to the depths of mines were reaching. Mining technology improved so fast and in such a short amount of time that the unforeseen consequences of many mining operations are still being uncovered to this day, like the examples of heavy-metals and mining by-products that have been left to seep into the food and water supply of people and animals that have caused–and will continue to cause–lasting harm for decades to come. Abandoned mines often leave large and irrecoverable scars ion the earth, and mining companies often have little reason to spend the large amounts of money necessary for cleaning these sites up.

For all of its negatives, mining remains and important part of economies around the globe, and with modern technology and knowledge mining doesn’t always need to come with purely negative consequences. Sandlos and Keeling point out that “In academic circles, geographers and historians have questioned the idea that mine closure inevitably leaves devastation in its wake, citing many examples where former mining communities have creatively restores landscapes to pay homage both to the industrial and ecological heritage of the local landscape” (1). With our better understanding of the ramifications of mining, I think it is completely possible for modern mining operations to go about their business in ways that only minimally impact the earth. Sadly, there are often few incentives for mining companies to employ “clean” mining methods, so the issues that come along with mining will continue to plague us for the foreseeable future.

1 thought on “Mines and their not-so-minor consequences”

  1. You mentioned that there are ways to reduce the impact mining has on the earth, but what would those be? Incentives for companies would be a good start, but what are they having to clean up, and how could they be incentivized? extreme fines? or is there a better option that you know of?
    In many cases, if the incentive, if it isn’t good (or bad) enough, can just make the situation worse because a given company decides it would rather pay some sort of fine than deal with all the extra work of cleaning the mess they made themselves, so that would be a big factor to consider.
    It is also important to at least note that mining will go on regardless of consequences to the earth or otherwise, so finding a way to actually take care of the earth isn’t an optional thing.

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