Mining in the Deep

Underground mining would not be possible today without a combination of technological and cultural advancements that lead to its necessity. First the development of Edison’s light bulb, finding the right filament was crucial to the success of the invention, and thus the increased need for copper. Then came the push for hydraulic power in the early nineteenth century with the building of Niagara falls. This greatly increased the demand for copper to run electricity from the dam to power the city. As for the technological history of mining that lead to deep hard rock mining the origins could be traced back to the Romans mining of the Spanish placer deposits. They used a hydraulic mining technique that consisted of blasting the rock and sifting the runoff. “The advent of hydraulic mining there signaled a shift to the capital-intensive industrial mining that would dominate the much of the west for the next century.” (LeCain pg38) The large scale equipment and techniques were a precursor to the deep mining systems of today. Unfortunately the cost of hydraulic mining was mostly put off on the local environment. Hydraulic mining can  only go so deep before flooding which was solved with the improved invention of the steam pump. Steam power also replaced hand drills allowing for more efficient extraction. The most important shift was how they looked at the underground from a geological scientists perspective.


Perhaps the greatest necessity for advancement in mining techniques was the deteriorating effects on the local landscape and population. Everybody thought copper would be a clean solution to the dirty coal burning that dominated most of the early century. Funny how they knew coal was dirty back then, almost a century later and coal is still a “controversial political topic,” give me a break. The effects on the landscape were almost immediate and sadly practically permanent. There are still acid pits from mining today. The local flora and fauna are poisoned by the release of toxic chemicals that are usually associated with mining runoff. These issues can be addressed with science. A geographical survey should be done before, every six month minimum during, and absolutely after it closes down. It is a shame the EPA has no teeth.

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