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 Mining-technology.com 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.
In our next post we’ll take a closer look at Mission 2016’s outline for implementing environmentally-friendly mining technologies, including a few specific examples of green technologies in action, and we’ll demonstrate how handheld XRF technology is an important tool in achieving some green mining objectives.