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.