Tim LeCain explores how complex technological systems had to be created in order to meet challenges seen while mining in extreme environments in “Between the Heavens and the Earth”. LeCain describes to us about Marcus Daly’s journey of creating an extremely intricate mining operation in Butte, Montana. In 1856, Daly came to America at age fifteen and traveled to California, chasing the mining frontier and eventually landed in the Comstock Lode (LeCain, pg 41). There, he absorbed as much knowledge as he could about hard rock mining while quickly climbing the ranks, while also befriending George Hearst, who made his fortune through the mine. In 1876, Daly came to Butte and put his knowledge to work on a, “Small but promising silver mine called the Anaconda that was a mere sixty feet deep at the time” (LeCain, pg 41). While mining, Daly ran into several problems, but thanks to advancing technology, he was able to keep mining. At around 140 feet deep, mass amounts of groundwater was found that kept flooding the mines (LeCain, pg 44). Daly made the expensive purchase of two gigantic pumps that allowed for the flooding issues to be resolved, but this lead to mass amounts of ground water being displaced. Another issue was that the air in the mines was toxic for miners. However, a Belgian professor developed an oxygen mask with a tank of air that allowed miners to breath while working at such depths (LeCain, pg 45).
These technologies allowed for vast and expansive mines to be created underground. However profitable this made mines within the Butte area, there were also consequences to these actions. Old underground mines made the ground above unstable. “Developers are reluctant to build in certain parts of the city where the ground can literally drop out from under their investment” (LeCain, pg 35). Although many of the stories about sink holes and ground collapses were fantasized in detail, they still happened. People aren’t as willing to build on lands that could collapse, however extreme it may be, and lose property and money. These kinds of issues are extremely difficult to resolve as well. One option may be to refill the mines that were dug out. However, there is then the issue of cost that goes with this, as well as how safe this action would be. These mines are very old, and not nearly as stable as they once were.