Environmental impact of mining
The environmental impact of mining includes erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity, and contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water by chemicals from mining processes. In some cases, additional forest logging is done in the vicinity of mines to increase the available room for the storage of the created debris and soil. Besides creating environmental damage, the contamination resulting from leakage of chemicals also affect the health of the local population. Mining companies in some countries are required to follow environmental and rehabilitation codes, ensuring the area mined is returned to close to its original state. Some mining methods may have significant environmental and public health effects.
Erosion of exposed hillsides, mine dumps, tailings dams and resultant siltation of drainages, creeks and rivers can significantly impact the surrounding areas, a prime example being the giant Ok Tedi Mine in Papua New Guinea. In areas of wilderness mining may cause destruction and disturbance of ecosystems and habitats, and in areas of farming it may disturb or destroy productive grazing and croplands. In urbanised environments mining may produce noise pollution, dust pollution and visual pollution.
Mining can have adverse effects on surrounding surface and ground water if protective measures are not taken. The result can be unnaturally high concentrations of some chemicals, such as arsenic, sulfuric acid, and mercury over a significant area of surface or subsurface. Runoff of mere soil or rock debris -although non-toxic- also devastates the surrounding vegetation. The dumping of the runoff in surface waters or in forests is the worst option here. Submarine tailings disposal is regarded as a better option (if the soil is pumped to a great depth). Mere land storage and refilling of the mine after it has been depleted is even better, if no forests need to be cleared for the storage of the debris. There is potential for massive contamination of the area surrounding mines due to the various chemicals used in the mining process as well as the potentially damaging compounds and metals removed from the ground with the ore. Large amounts of water produced from mine drainage, mine cooling, aqueous extraction and other mining processes increases the potential for these chemicals to contaminate ground and surface water. In well-regulated mines, hydrologists and geologists take careful measurements of water and soil to exclude any type of water contamination that could be caused by the mine's operations. The reducing or eliminating of environmental degradation is enforced in modern American mining by federal and state law, by restricting operators to meet standards for protecting surface and ground water from contamination. This is best done through the use of non-toxic extraction processes as bioleaching. If the project site becomes nonetheless polluted, mitigation techniques such as acid mine drainage (AMD) need to be performed.
The five principal technologies used to monitor and control water flow at mine sites are diversion systems, containment ponds, groundwater pumping systems, subsurface drainage systems, and subsurface barriers. In the case of AMD, contaminated water is generally pumped to a treatment facility that neutralizes the contaminants.
A 2006 review of environmental impact statements found that "water quality predictions made after considering the effects of mitigations largely underestimated actual impacts to groundwater, seeps, and surface water".
Acid rock drainage
Dissolution and transport of metals and heavy metals by run-off and ground water is another example of environmental problems with mining, such as the Britannia Mine, a former copper mine near Vancouver, British Columbia. Tar Creek, an abandoned mining area in Picher, Oklahoma that is now an Environmental Protection Agency superfund site, also suffers from heavy metal contamination. Water in the mine containing dissolved heavy metals such as lead and cadmium leaked into local groundwater, contaminating it. Long-term storage of tailings and dust can lead to additional problems, as they can be easily blown off site by wind, as occurred at Skouriotissa, an abandoned copper mine in Cyprus.
With open cast mining the overburden, which may be covered in forest, must be removed before the mining can commence. Although the deforestation due to mining may be small compared to the total amount it may lead to species extinction if there is a high level of local endemism.
Mountaintop removal mining
Sand mining and gravel mining creates large pits and fissures in the earth's surface. At times, mining can extend so deeply that it affects ground water, springs, underground wells, and the water table. The Gernatt Family of Companies is an example of corporations in which many sand and gravel pits have affected the earth's surface and have the potential for affecting the water table.
Tailings and spoil
To ensure completion of reclamation, or restoring mine land for future use, many governments and regulatory authorities around the world require that mining companies post a bond to be held in escrow until productivity of reclaimed land has been convincingly demonstrated, although if cleanup procedures are more expensive than the size of the bond, the bond may simply be abandoned. Since 1978 the mining industry has reclaimed more than 2 million acres (8,000 km²) of land in the United States alone. This reclaimed land has renewed vegetation and wildlife in previous mining lands and can even be used for farming and ranching.
- Tui mine in New Zealand
- Stockton mine in New Zealand
- Northland Pyrite Mine in Temagami, Ontario, Canada
- Sherman Mine in Temagami, Ontario, Canada
- Ok Tedi Mine in Western Province, Papua New Guinea
- The Berkeley Pit
- Wheal Jane Mines
Film and literature
- Burning the Future: Coal in America
- Coal River
- Mountain Top Removal
- Moving Mountains: How One Woman and Her Community Won Justice From Big Coal
- Tar Creek
- Logging of forests and debris dumping
- Poisoning by mines
- Gold mining causing mercury pollution
- Solid disposal options
- First International Conference on Mining Impacts to Human and Natural Environments (March 15, 2008)
- Maest et al 2006. Predicted Versus Actual Water Quality at Hardrock Mine Sites: Effect of Inherent Geochemical and Hydrologic Characteristics.
- Ottawa County, Oklahoma Hazardous Waste Sites