Mining and the Ecosystem

We are all aware of our impact on the environment.  Is there a way forward in “green” mining?
Article sourced –
The effects of Mining on the Ecosystem
Updated April 24, 2017
By Jonas Martonas
“Ecosystems are affected by the physical perturbations of mining operations, as well as the chemical alterations in soil and water. Mining activities vary, but can include soil compaction and conversely, removal of the topsoil. These alterations disrupt nutrient dynamics by minimizing the availability of nitrogen and phosphorus, lower the pH through the acidification of the soil and can introduce toxic metals and acids. Depending on the scale and nature of the mining operation, these effects can be localized to the location of the mining or, through local hydrology, can extend to nearby aquatic systems, such as stream, wetlands and lakes.
Physical Effects
Soil compaction is one of the most severe effects mining has on ecosystems. Compaction is often the result of bulldozers and other pieces of large machinery moving across the landscape, often for many years while the mining is still in operation. As the soil is compacted, there are fewer pore spaces for oxygen and water to move through the soil profile, minimizing the potential for plant establishment. Also, as water is unable to percolate down through the soil, it inevitably will move across the surface of the landscape and increase the possibility of contaminating nearby aquatic systems, such as wetlands, streams and lakes. Conversely, the topsoil, which is typically the top 30 cm of soil, can be mined. This lowers the overall fertility of the soil and increases water movement through the soil and landscape
Chemical Effects
Mining operations often contaminate the soil with toxic heavy metals and acids. Acids can lower the pH of the soil, preventing plants and soil microorganisms from thriving, and can also react with various minerals in the soil that are required by plants, such as calcium and magnesium. The hydrogen ions from the acid absorb the soil particles, preventing other nutrients required by plants to remain in the soil. These chemical alterations can interact with soil compaction. Because water isn’t moving through the soil profile, some of the metals and acids can get carried away by the water, extending the mining effects throughout greater portions of the landscape. Elkins, Parker, Aldon and Whitford report in their article “Responses of Soil Biota to Organic Ammendments in Stripmine Spoils in Northwestern New Mexico,” in the “Journal of Environmental Quality,” 1984, that the addition of organic matter to mined lands can increase water retention in the soil, as well as the microbial process of nutrient accumulation and processing, potentially offsetting and minimizing the ecosystem effects from mining operations.
Plant Life
Ecosystems function because of the continuing interaction between the biotic (living) and abiotic (nonliving) components. Because each component affects how all others function, the depletion of soil nutrients and the acidification and compaction of the soil profile can limit the amount of plant life that can colonize a location. With reduced plant biomass, less carbon is being processed via photosynthesis, which leads to less oxygen production, less standing biomass and reduced transfer and cycling of nutrients. Also, plants are key regulators in an ecosystem’s water cycling as they utilize moisture in photosynthesis and transpire water vapor back into the atmosphere. As such, the absence of plants in an ecosystem can inhibit the multiple functions and services commonly provided.”
Article from ThermoFisher Scientific
Green Mining: Can It Really Happen? Part 1
By Esa Nummi
“The environmental impact of mining activities is a key issue concerning the industry. The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, enacted in 1977, provides many regulations to ensure mine sites are operated, and any environmental damage is remediated, in a responsible way. Read Mining and the Environment: What Happens When A Mine Closes? to learn about other U.S. regulations governing the mining industry and some of the issues they address. Remediation is just one part of reducing the environmental impact of mining; here we present a summary of some projects underway to initiate more responsible mining technologies, or “green mining.” In the article, Eco-friendly Mining Trends for 2014, Joshua Kirkey, Communications Advisor for Natural Resources Canada (NRC), defines green mining as  “technologies, best practices and mine processes that are implemented as a means to reduce the environmental impacts associated with the extraction and processing of metals and minerals. Examples include the reduction of greenhouse gases, selective mining approaches to reduce the ecological footprint, and reduction in chemical use. Green mining technologies and practices offer superior performance with respect to energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions and the use of chemicals.” The article points out that green technologies are especially needed to address the tremendous amount of energy and water used by traditional mining methods, to improve mine closure processes, and that these practices need to be developed in a way that integrates well with current technologies. MIT’s Mission 2016: The Future of Strategic Natural Resources website addresses the need for more widespread Environmentally Sensitive “Green” Mining standards and techniques. The site presents a plan for improving efficiency and decreasing the environmental impact of mining is broken up into the following categories:
Shutting down illegal and unregulated mines
Choosing environmentally friendly general mining processes. In situ mining, for example, can be more environmentally friendly than underground mining and is cheaper than many mining methods.
Implementing recently discovered green mining technologies. These include mining from tailings, dust suppression techniques, liquid membrane emulsion technology, sulphuric acid leaching extraction process, impermeable tailings storage, and improved energy efficiency by using better ventilation systems and diesel engines
Cleaning up the sites of shut-down mines using R2 technology to recover metals while improving the condition of the land
Reevaluating cut-off grades to reduce waste and increase efficiency
Research and development of green mining technology in the areas of processing, clean water, and energy efficiency.
Mining Global’s article, Top 10 Ways to Make Mines More Environmentally Friendly echoes some of the suggestions put forth by Mission 2016:
Closing illegal and unregulated mines
Scrap mining and recycling
Better legislation and regulations
Improving environmental performance
Accurate tallying of toxic mining waste
Building from reusable waste
Closing and reclaiming sites of shut-down mines
Investing in research and development of Green Mining Technology
Replenishing the environment
Improving the efficiency of manufacturing processes.”
Dust Monitoring Equipment – providing equipment, services and training in dust fallout management to the mining industry.

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