Mining is an inherently destructive industry, and the mining effects of even a single operation can have a severe impact on the environment and the wildlife that lives nearby. Although there are some regulations in place that are intended to minimize the damage, they are not enough to allow mining and wildlife to exist in harmony, especially in cases where the regulations are difficult to enforce.
The mining industry has the potential to disrupt ecosystems and wipe out wildlife populations in several different ways. Here’s how mining affects the environment and wildlife.
Mining can lead to the destruction of habitats in surrounding areas. The process begins with deforestation. The land above the mine must be cleared of all obstructions to allow the miners to go to work. Sadly, most mining companies are quite willing to destroy an entire forest to get access to mineral wealth.
Deforestation has several effects. Birds, animals, and creatures that depend on trees and plants for food or shelter lose their homes or starve to death. Any remaining survivors are forced to relocate and find a new dwelling.
The removal of trees can also significantly affect the plants that rely on them for shade from the harsh sun.
Some mining methods cause further destruction, such as the use of explosions to destroy mountain tops. Toxic chemicals and minerals could go to streams, rivers, and other bodies of water which can create harmful effects to marine species.
Mining can leak pollutants into the environment that may lead to water contamination.
At the most basic level, mining requires clearing of trees that hold soil in place. The process can disturb the ground and wash the soil into waterways. The increase in sediment is not poisonous, but it can still upset the delicate balance of the aquatic ecosystem by changing growing conditions and eventually alter the shape of the river.
Other forms of pollution can be even more severe. The mining process exposes bodies of water to heavy metals and toxic minerals like selenium which can negatively impact the human and the marine lives.
Mining cause the water table to shrink. Water often seeps into areas that contain coal and other valuable products, and that water needs to be pumped out of the mine to allow the miners to work. Aside from pollution, the process would also cause water loss in the ground.
Some mines have to collect water for use as a dust suppressant, which puts more strain on the local water supply.
Nearby residents who depend on wells for their water supply can also get affected. They will need to drill even deeper to ensure that they have access to water. When the water loss from mining is combined with another large source of strain on the supply, it can lead to a shortage, which can contribute to the destruction of ecosystems.
Mining is one of the most common methods for extracting fossil fuel from the ground. Fossil fuels can be used to power mining machinery. Although useful, burning fossil fuels release greenhouse gasses into the air which contributes to climate change.
Many mines produce methane as a waste product. Methane is a relatively potent greenhouse gas; even a small amount of it can gradually worsen climate change. Coal mines are responsible for approximately six percent of the methane that is released due to human activities.
Abandoned Mines Does Not End the Problem
All mines are temporary structures. They can remain active for many years, but they will eventually run out of minerals and cease operations. This does not automatically mean that the environment and wildlife will no longer suffer.
Responsible owners would backfill the underground mine. However, not all mine operators would resort to this option because the process can be very expensive.
Failure to backfill the mine can lead to a problem called subsidence, which occurs when abandoned mines collapse. This will undo any efforts to reestablish a healthy ecosystem in the area, and often render it useless for many years to come. The problem only increases if contaminants were left on the site, since removing them after a collapse is exceedingly difficult. Ensuring that every abandoned mine is duly filled in and wastes are eliminated will help nature to recover.
Solving the Problem
Mining isn’t going to stop anytime soon, but it’s possible to lessen their negative impact on the environment and wildlife. Various groups are promoting environmentally-friendly mining. Among the proposed ideas include the following:
- Shutting down unregulated and illegal mines
- Enforcing accurate reporting of dumped toxic wastes
- Backfilling mine sites and proper waste clean-up
- Encouraging and investing in the development of sustainable mining technology
- Improving mining legislations and regulations
Responsible mining will not only save the environment and wildlife, but it can also ensure the safety of the people working in the mine and living in nearby areas.