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The environmentally disruptive nature of all phases of the mining process is evident in any area of the world where oil, gas, and mineral extraction occurs. The development of tar sands infrastructure within the Canadian boreal, for example, has caused for the deforestation of over 750,000 forests in the area, whereas 60% of Brazil’s Amazon forest land undergoes mining activity daily. While the regulations that are enforced by certain governments alleviate a portion of the burden that mining can introduce into a given area, its ability to generate extremely hazardous conditions do not recognize the boundaries between developed versus undeveloped countries.
Gold Mining in the Amazon
For the last several decades, the valuable concentrations of timber, oil, and various minerals within the Amazon rainforest have remained a highly valuable target for both large-scale corporations and small-scale inexperienced miners of the surrounding areas. Once a gold deposit is located within an area of the Amazon rainforest, typically in the rivers, miners will remove all surrounding trees to allow for hydraulic mining procedures to expose and extract the potential gold-yielding deposits.
Mercury, cyanide, and other toxic chemicals are often used in such mining processes, therefore their subsequent release into nearby rivers following mineral extraction will also contaminate all forms of biological life that can eventually enter the food chain.
As such a high concentration of mineral resources is found within the most biologically diverse regions of the Amazon, as well as other parts of the world, the direct impact that deforestation has to our global environment is extraordinary. In Brazil’s Amazon forest, mining within leases and any exploration permits cover approximately 1.65 million km2 of land, with off-lease impacts found extensively beyond at least 10 km beyond the lease boundaries1.
Some off-lease impacts that result from mining-related deforestation include an increase in local hunting, agriculture growth, and increased settlement of workers in surrounding areas and other urban expansion issues arise as individuals look to this newly open land for various economic gains.
Effects on Habitat and Wildlife
Habitat loss that results from mining, whether directly related to deforestation or the aforementioned harmful mining can increase in several different ways. By replacing forests with empty land, previously inhabited plants and species of the area are unable to thrive in these new, and often harsher, conditions. Such a substantial loss of biodiversity will often reduce the wildlife inhabitants of the affected area2. Without a place for birds to build their nests or foxes, wolves, and other animals to create their homes in hidden areas within forests, animals are left with few survival options once complete deforestation has occurred.
As forests are cleared to accommodate mining projects, empty gaps or stretches of fragmented land often remain in these areas resulting in a process known as forest fragmentation. In forest fragmentation, these empty areas that were once protected by weedy plants and trees to absorb incoming sunlight are now left to be more sensitive than ever before.
Past, Current, and Future Protective Policies
The advancing field of clean energy will continue to increase the global demand for various minerals and metals, some of which include aluminum, lead, manganese, nickel, silver, steel, zinc, copper, gold, cobalt, iron, and much more3. While Europe is expected to remain a large consumer of metal products, countries like India and other emerging economies are expected to increase their demand for these types of minerals. Similarly, China is expected to remain a primary source of mineral export production. In order to satisfy this demand without risking the complete destruction of our ecosystem, existing policies need to be enforced, while developing countries will require new policies to regulate land-use for mining and associated infrastructure plans.
Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+)
The REDD+ incorporates a number of documents that confirm the role that mining procedures in over 60 countries including Colombia, the Republic of the Congo, Papua New Guinea, Ghana and Indonesia play a driving force in the deforestation of these areas. The strategies discussed in the REDD+ assist these countries with designing and implementing programs that specifically cater to the area’s needs4.
The implementation of new monitoring technologies like drones and mobile phones has the potential to greatly improve the way in which important data is collected and relayed back to government and corporation personnel. The use of higher resolution cameras to map the dispersion of mining impacts within an area could also improve the way in which environmental issues are addressed and even prevented.
References and Further Reading
- “Mining drives extensive deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon” Sonter, L., Herrera, D., et al. Nature Communications. (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-00557-qw.
- “How Does Mining Affect the Environment” – Green Living
- “Clean Energy Transition Will Increase Demand for Minerals, says new World Bank report” – The World Bank
- “The Impact of Mining on Forests: Information Needs for Effective Policy Responses” – Chatham House The Royal Institute of International Affairs