The environmental impacts of mining are overwhelmingly negative. With the global population having exploded in the post-War era, humanity’s need for natural resources has significantly increased. Consequently, mining operations have also expanded in scale.
Impacts on land
Quite often, mining involves drilling into or blowing up land. This creates significant physical disturbances to the ecosystems at the site. What’s more, the features of the land from before the area was mined can often not be replaced or replicated .
Different types of mining have various impacts on land. For example, strip mining results in the clearing of trees, plants and topsoil . One effect of this type of mining on the environment is the pervasive problem of soil erosion, which in turn leads to the pollution of waterways.
Another destructive type of mining is underground coal mining. It has the effect of releasing methane into the atmosphere, and bringing toxic waste to the surface .
Impacts on animals
Most mining techniques destroy animal communities and have no regard for the animals living in the area. One particular industry-standard method, called mountaintop removal, is used frequently in coal mining in order to get coal out of the inner parts of a mountain.
This process involves using dynamite to literally explode the top of the mountain, and then all the way down, until the mountain is rubble . This is done with no regard for the animals (or people) living there.
Undoubtedly, thousands of animals are killed in this process by being exploded or crushed by rock.
Impacts on humans
It is particularly coal mining that has been proven to have disastrous effects on human health. Miners have been known to suffer and die from the disease Black Lung. In even developed nations such as Australia, miners are still presenting with these symptoms .
What’s more, people who live near coal mines have been known to have increased lung cancer rates, respiratory disease, and low birth weights .
Similarly, people who live near surface mines face health issues due to the explosives used and the chemicals these release into the air .
Example: Ok Tedi Mine, Papua New Guinea
The Ok Tedi Mine is an open pit copper and gold mine in Papua New Guinea. It is responsible for one of the greatest mining disasters ever, known as the Ok Tedi environmental disaster, which occurred between 1984 and 2013.
In 1984, a tailings dam collapsed at the mine, causing 80,000 tons of pollution per day to run down into the Ok Tedi and Fly rivers . BHP, an Australian mining company, owned and operated the mine at the time of the disaster and were later the subject of a lawsuit by landowners.
Whilst there are obvious economic benefits to mining, the environmental and health impacts cannot be ignored. Mining has enabled us as a species to live much more comfortable lives, and to have services we now take for granted such as gas and electricity.
But at what cost? At the rate we are going, if we do not clean up our mining operations, the long-term impacts on humanity could be irreparable.