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A brief history of mining methods
The first minerals to be exploited such as flint were found on the surface. When these
were exhausted shallow pits were excavated. As these got deeper, they became
vertical shafts, with horizontal tunnels where the minerals were found in horizontal
seams. Human labour provided the energy.
Very deep shafts were only practical when pumping water out of the mines with steam
engines became possible. Equipment was developed to help cutting or blasting the
tunnels and minerals and to carry materials out of the mines.
Labour costs gradually increased and machinery became larger do it became more
economic to mine mechanically, using human labour mainly to drive machines. Almost
all modern mines use open cast methods, also called open-pit mining or quarrying.
Deep mining with vertical shafts and horizontal tunnels can be used for deeper mineral
deposits but it is much more expensive and cannot use huge machines to extract
massive amounts. So it is rarely used, except for high value minerals such as gold and
The environmental impacts of mineral exploitation
Exploration, extraction and processing all cause significant environmental damage. A
range of methods may be used to reduce these although they all cost money, so the
protection of the environment is balanced with market profitability. Profits are
greatest if less money is spent on environmental protection, but planning authorities in
many countries only grant permission to mine if the environmental damage is
minimised during the active mining period and in sire restoration afterwards.
Marine seismic surveys can cause very loud vibrations and can disturb whales.
Exploration on land can involve the clearance and vegetation loss.
Land impacts -
Extraction may cause conflicts with other land uses.
Land take -
The land area that is required is larger than the area of the mine void (hole). Land is
needed for associated buildings, access routes, overburden dumping and possibly a
buffer zone between the mine and the neighbouring areas.
Habitat loss -
The loss of species were the mineral is to be extracted is unavoidable.
Removing the wildlife by capturing the animals and transplanting the plants to move
them to unthreatened habitats has been attempted but is rarely completely
successful. Such areas usually either suitable or are already full populated.
Habitat restoration when mining has ended is often carried out, or new habitats are
created, such as s wetland nature reserve in the mine void. This is a requirement of
planning permission in many countries, including the UK. The newly created habitat
may have greater wildlife value than the habitat that was present before mining
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Loss of amenity -
Mining may cause aesthetic problems for local communities. This may be reduced by
landscaping and tree planting. If the mine is turned into a community resource when
mining has ended then the long term amenity value may be increased.
Dust is raised into the atmosphere by blasting and vehicle movements. The dust can be
removed with water sprays.
Mine vehicles and rock blasting are the two main sources of noise.…read more
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This is caused by poor spoil compaction or undermining of sensitive surface land uses
by deep mines. It can be reduced by compaction of spoil and by leaving support pillars
in deep mines.
Traffic congestion -
Road traffic from the mine can cause congestion and road traffic accidents. These may
be reduced by using routes that avoid urban areas, but building separate access
routes or by using alternative methods of transport such as railways.…read more