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Commentary: Growing demand for minerals will negatively impact the environment for generations to come

Author: Matthew Ross, The Conversation, Published on: 4 October 2019

"Mining powers modern life, but can leave scarred lands and polluted waters behind", 3 October 2019.

...The Trump administration has revived several controversial mining proposals that previously were blocked or stalemated. They include the Pebble Mine at the headwaters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay and leasing around Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It also approved a large copper mine in southern Arizona, which was subsequently blocked by a federal court ruling...

Mining operations are major water pollution sources and can cause problems that persist for generations...Growing international emphasis on mine safety and changes in technology and ore quality have prompted a shift from deep mining to pit mines or surface mines...Accessing ore typically involves blowing apart bedrock, removing it from the shaft or pit and storing waste materials nearby...Sulfur-rich compounds in the rock react with oxygen and water, producing sulfuric acid, which can lower the pH of nearby streams to levels comparable to lemon juice or vinegar...If acid drainage reaches groundwater, it may persist for decades or centuries...

...Old and abandoned mines around the world have harmed water quality long after mining has ceased. Their impacts can come as long-term slow leakage, or as sudden discharges like the 2015 Gold King spill near Silverton, Colorado, which released three million gallons of mine wastewater and debris into the Animas River...

Rapidly expanding green energy will require extracting vast quantities of rare earth metals to power wind turbines, electric vehicle batteries and solar panels...Economic imperatives lead companies to continue to push for new mines, either in the U.S. or abroad, where environmental controls may be weaker... The best way to completely avoid the complications that come from mining more minerals is to reduce consumption of them, make mining processes more efficient and make it more economic to recycle industrial materials and rare earth metals.

Read the full post here