Making Green Mining a Reality

“Green mining” is described as the implementation of technologies and mining processes that are aimed at reducing any possible environmental impacts that can occur following the extraction and processing of metals and minerals within a mine. The environmental risk associated with traditional mining processes include the release of harmful substances and byproducts into the soil, air and water, all of which depend upon the specific type of mining being conducted.

How Does Mining Harm our Environment?

The way in which mining processes negatively impact our environment varies depending upon the type of mining involved. In open pit mining, which describes the excavation of material from an open pit, minerals are often only present in small quantities, thereby causing an increased need in the mining procedures required to extract these precious materials.

Such extraction techniques often pull away at rock layers that have been untouched for geological eras, which often causes an increased release of toxic and radioactive elements into the environment. Underground mining processes are also associated with an increased release of toxic elements into the water and air.

Legislation for Clean Mining

In an effort to reduce the environmental damage that is produced by mining processes, the United States government in 1977 enacted the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA)1. The SMCRA sets minimum requirements for all mine operators to abide by during any type of exploration endeavors. Typical mining processes often require a large energy input for each day of work, therefore one way in which the SMCRA seeks to protect the environment from any potential burden is by enforcing companies to employ different machinery that will reduce the overall emission of greenhouse gases.

The lifetime of a typical mining process will last anywhere from a few years to several decades. Once a mining project is complete and all valuable materials have been extracted, the mine is closed and its site is either restored back to its original state or repurposed for other activities in the future. If adequate sustainability measures are taken throughout the entire mining process, its closure will be more manageable and less costly2.

A responsible mine closure process will involve the following pre-planned processes:

  • Removal of any hazardous materials in or around the mines
  • Proper disposal of any produced wastes
  • The securing of all open pits within the mine
  • Reclaiming surface land
  • Preventing any future groundwater pollution

Green Mining Technology R&D

Australia, China, the United States, Russia and several other countries around the world are some of the top producers of minerals. As almost every other industry has followed the trend of maintaining environmentally friendly and sustainable environments for their production needs, both federal and commercial agencies have increased funding opportunities for green mining initiatives. The rise of such technologies will improve equipment efficiencies and reduce the unnecessary waste of products by discovering new and innovative ways in which they can be used.

WRI and Green Mining

The World Resources Institute (WRI) is a global research organization that is dedicated towards supporting new ideas that will change the way in which natural resources play a role in creating a sustainable environment for our future. When China’s Zijin Mining Group leaked over 2.4 million gallons of acidic copper waste water into the Ting River in 2010, killing over 2,000 metric tons of fish immediately, WRI took a closer look at how a better tracking system for the physical flows of natural resources could be achieved.

Traditional environmental impact assessments (EIAs), which is an examination process that helps to determine the possible environmental effects that will be associated with a given progress, often exclude water quality studies. While water consumption during mining processes is reported, companies often fail to mention or provide very little detail on the risks that their projects can pose to nearby water supplies. To address this problem, the WRI presented “Mine the Gap,” which describes a preliminary framework in which companies and governments are able to accurately assess any risk that a given mining project will pose to the environment3. WRI is continuing their work from this project to develop an accessible and uniform database that tracks the flow of materials through the entire mining process from extraction, production, fabrication, use, recycling and final disposal.

The preventative measures associated with the practice of green mining can have immense effects on mining projects and surrounding communities that are often neglected once a mine is closed.

Image Credit:

Andrey N Bannov/ Shutterstock.com

References:

  1. “Mining and the Environment: What Happens When a Mine Closes?” – Thermo Fisher Scientific
  2. “Environmentally Sensitive “Green” Mining” – The Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  3. “Digging Beneath the Surface: Water Risks in Mining” – World Resources Institute

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Benedette Cuffari

Written by

Benedette Cuffari

After completing her Bachelor of Science in Toxicology with two minors in Spanish and Chemistry in 2016, Benedette continued her studies to complete her Master of Science in Toxicology in May of 2018. During graduate school, Benedette investigated the dermatotoxicity of mechlorethamine and bendamustine, which are two nitrogen mustard alkylating agents that are currently used in anticancer therapy.

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