Mining will always have an influence on the ecosystem, but the question is how much.
The responsible management of natural resources and ecosystems such as soils, plants, animals, water, air, and the services they give is important to any society’s efforts to become more sustainable.
The Intergovernmental Forum on Mining (IGF) has identified four concerns that governments can successfully address to achieve long-term sustainability goals.
- The Ecosystem and Biodiversity
- Water Management
- Waste Management in Mines
- Emergency Preparedness
Governments and communities must address these four crucial challenges to guarantee that mining and the environment can coexist for the benefit of all.
1. Biodiversity and the Ecosystem
To lessen the negative consequences of mining on biodiversity and the environment, we must first understand how mining affects biodiversity. A mining project has an immediate impact on biodiversity by:
- Pollution of the air, soil, noise, and water
- Loss of habitat
- Degradation and fragmentation of ecosystems
Mining has an indirect impact on biodiversity by:
- Inadvertent introduction of invasive/non-native species into an environment
- Human migration in search of better possibilities
- Increased fishing, gathering, hunting, and agricultural land clearing
When weighing the advantages of proposed mining operations, governments must balance a community’s growth and economic requirements with environmental and conservation aims.
2. Water Management
Water is essential for everyday life and mining operations. Water is used to process ore, cool machinery, and provide water for drinking and washing. In operations where ore is processed by a heap leach pad, water is used to wash the crushed ore, percolate through the leach pad and collect the leachate containing metals. This water may be reused to wash more ore or discharged into the environment. Water is also used in air compressors and pumps to wash ore being moved by conveyor belts. Water is also used to wash soil that may have been affected by acid produced during the processing of ore. The waste water from the ore processing operation must be contained and treated before being discharged into the environment.
3. Mine Waste Management
Mining creates waste during the extraction and processing of materials from the ground. These wastes are tailings and overburden. Tailings are the particles left after the valuable minerals have been extracted from the ore or the ground. These tailings are high in acidity as a result of the ore processing. Tailings are typically stored in large piles to await reclamation. Overburden is the rock or soil that covers and supports the ore body. It is typically removed by blasting, drilling, or by excavators on the ground.
Reclamation of these areas requires restoring them to pre-mining conditions to avoid any lasting negative impacts on the environment. These activities may include environmental rehabilitation, erosion control, revegetation, and water management.
4. Emergency Preparedness
The potential for accidents, flooding, and other natural disasters is always present in any area of operation. To address this risk, a company needs to be informed and prepared in the event of an emergency. A company must first develop a site emergency response plan. This plan will outline the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders in the event of an emergency. It must also identify all potential hazards, risks, and emergency response measures.
A crisis communication plan should also be developed to ensure that all potentially affected parties are notified of any leaks or spills immediately. This will enable a rapid response from the responsible parties and ensure that local authorities are involved in the clean-up. The plan and the site must be regularly tested and reviewed. A copy of the plan should be accessible to all stakeholders to be implemented in the event of an emergency.
Ensuring sustainable development and responsible environmental management is a serious undertaking that requires a joint commitment from stakeholders.
The most crucial aspect of environmental management in mining is for the industry and stakeholders to work with the community, governments, and other relevant parties to develop and implement effective strategies to mitigate the impact of mining on the environment.
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