Mining is by its very nature unsustainable. Mining is a process that extracts finite natural resources from the Earth’s crust. These minerals are then processed and used by society. There is evidence of mining activity in South Africa. This evidence dates back to the Iron Age. Stone Age people actually gathered selected rock types from small “surface mines” to make their stone tools.
Current generations are still feeling the effects of bad mining practices and lack of mine rehabilitation upon closure. According to the Department of Mineral and Energy, there are approximately 8000 abandoned or unrehabilitated mines in South Africa that still need some environmental attention.
Today’s society is more dependent upon mines than ever. Take a look at the everyday items that we use every day:
- Bricks, mortar, and concrete are used in our homes, schools, hospitals, roads, and churches, as well as in our classrooms, schools, and other public places.
- Copper, iron, or aluminum are used in water pipes, electricity, and telephone cables
- Our roofing materials are made of steel and zinc
- cars, televisions, computers, stoves, cooking pots, screws, nails, fences, jewelry, glass, inorganic fertilizer…
We are the ones who create the demand for minerals, and we rely on the mines to provide the necessary support. There are two types generally speaking of mines: underground and surface. Surface mining is the latter.
- Large-scaleOpencastMines can be more than 300m deep and are over kilometers in length. These mines supply manganese and iron ore as well as chrome, nickel, diamonds, gold, platinum, and coal.
- Small to mediumQuarriesThat supply aggregate for building construction.
- Small-scaleartisinalA few people work in mines that supply a variety of minerals such as diamonds, gold, and coal.
There are advantages and disadvantages to surface mining compared with underground mining. There are many advantages to surface mining. It is more affordable, can extract more resources (usually up to 100%), is safer, and can use larger-scale equipment that can produce higher production rates. Its disadvantages include the high visibility and large-scale surface disturbance, as well as the limited depth at which mining can occur.
Miners who are environmentally responsible are constantly looking for new ways to minimize the environmental impacts of their operations. These include:
- Keep the mining footprint (the area that has been disturbed) to a minimum.
- Maximizing the extraction of the mineral from the smallest areas.
- Attentiveness to groundwater and surface pollution.
- Minimizing the use of petrol, diesel, and electricity in mining and processing activities;
- Atmosphere emissions can be reduced by reducing particulate (dust), vehicle exhaust fumes, and smokestacks.
- Employee training should be increased, including in areas such as safety, health, and environmental awareness.
- Investing in local infrastructure
- Concurrent and post-closure rehabilitation is used to return the mine areas to positive and sustainable landforms.
Surface mines can be closed and rehabilitated into many useful landforms including:
- Water storage and related recreational facilities
- Creation of adventure centers and botanical gardens
- The housing of vehicle testing centers
- Establishment of shopping centers and office parks
- Agriculture – Crops and grazing
- Landfilling with select wastes
We, as consumers of minerals, have a responsibility:
- We support socially and environmentally responsible miners.
- Recognize your responsibility for creating demand for mining materials (the mines wouldn’t exist if there weren’t a demand for the minerals and products), and plan accordingly for future development and lifestyles that consume as little as possible.
This post was written by Justin Tidd, Director at Becker/SMC. For nearly a half a century, Becker Mining has been at the forefront of safety, producing the best ground fault relay in the industry. Becker/SMC is the industry’s leader in increasingly more sophisticated electrical control systems. Most of the major innovations, design features and specialized electrical components have been developed by Becker/SMC.