Societal perceptions about mining
The environmental ethic applied to mining has been evolving over a surprisingly long period of time but still lacks full definition. In the industrial world minor public skepticism, which has been around for centuries, slowly evolved into increased apprehensions, beginning during the mid-to-late part of the 19th century. Lately, this feeling has turned to much more widespread disapproval over any actual or even imagined harmful impact of mining on the environment. In the United States a strong negative attitude first appeared during the era of hydraulic mining for gold in California. From that period to the present, anti-mining feelings, fueled by a series of sporadic episodes, have been gathering accelerated widespread momentum which crystallized to the point where seemingly the United States mining industry can now expect major new comprehensive regulations in the very near future.
In concert with specific economic benefits, the detriments of developing mineral resources throughout human history have been high, and mining activity has often proceeded as if unaware or in disregard of the environmental, social, and other costs of its activities. Particularly during the 19th and early 20th century, mining activity proceeded in many areas of the world in concert with European colonialism, a mindset of manifest destiny, and significance absence of government regulation. Under these and similar conditions, mining activities left behind distinctive legacies of physical and social transformations that have colored and formed enduring and highly negative perceptions of mining. For example, throughout the American West lie the tailings piles, open pits, aggraded rivers, mountain remnants, and other landscapes transformed by mining. The bulk of activity there began with the California gold rush in the mid-1800s, and has continued since under a variety of societal transformations.
In Nigeria, extensive surface mining of tin, gold, lead, columbite, and gravel began under British colonial rule in the late 1800s. The mining left permanent scars on the landscape, and led to broad-scale deforestation of the Jos Plateau because of a large increase in demand for firewood and charcoal to support the mining communities. The negative impacts of deforestation, and consequent transformations of social and settlement patterns, are projected to remain especially with the Sudan-Sahel zone of northern Nigeria well into the 21st century. In the Amazon River basin in South America, the discovery of gold in 1980 led to developing the Serra Pelada mine, producing significant riches and a nearby city of 100,000 people. Tin mining has also become a major industry, exemplified by the Carajas Mine that has grown from a modest iron mine into a multi-billion dollar mining complex with sophisticated equipment for handling several other minerals (Almeida, 1986). However, Salati and others (1990, p. 487) indicate that most mining operations in the Amazon region are poorly controlled and do great harm to the environment despite existing legislation. For example, they estimate that more than 91 metric tons (100 tons) of mercury were spilled into the Maderia River during gold processing. Additionally, they observe that a significant quantity of the Amazon’s mineral wealth is smuggled abroad, yielding little economic and social benefit to the region.
One of the most vivid mineral extraction legacies in the United States is hydraulic mining that ravaged rivers in the Sierra Nevada of California and led to extensive sedimentation of San Francisco Bay. Hydraulic mining for gold in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada began in 1853, and involved washing vegetation, soil, and rocks from mountainsides using high-powered jets of water. The nozzles ranged up to about 5 meters (16 to 18 feet) in length and were capable of blasting a stream of water about 120 to 150 meters (400 to 500 feet). The sediment was then run through sluices lined with mercury that captured particles of gold. The remaining debris was washed into nearby streams and rivers, causing massive aggradation of major river channels and destruction of farmland in the Sacramento Valley. Farther downstream, the debris began to fill San Francisco Bay. Cappiella and others (1999) estimate that hydraulic mining removed more than 1 billion cubic meters (1.3 billion cubic yards) of sediment from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, and that about 9,100 metric tons (10,000 tons) of liquid mercury was distributed throughout the river systems downstream from the sluices and the sediments in San Francisco Bay.
Because of the devastation and damage to farms and towns caused by debris accumulation in river channels, and effects such as impeded navigation and increased flooding, hydraulic mining was banned in 1884. Mining debris nonetheless remained in river channels and continued to be transported into San Francisco Bay well into the 20th century. Dams constructed for water supply and flood control in the early to mid twentieth century ultimately had the effect of trapping sediment and reducing the peak river flows capable of transporting sediment into San Francisco Bay. By the mid to late 20th century, the San Pablo and Suisun components of the San Francisco Bay system were erosional, losing sediment and deepening in the absence of inputs of hydraulic mining debris. However, the eroding materials are likely contaminated with mercury, posing problems for 21st century society. Additionally, the mined areas of the Sierra Nevada foothills and river channels upstream from modern reservoirs retain the scars and debris of hydraulic mining. Thus, the thirty-one year era of hydraulic mining produced effects that persisted for more than 100 years, and which will continue in the form of natural and anthropogenic reclamation of mined lands and river courses, and treatment of mercury contamination problems.
Current (2002), large-scale mining practices in the United States are characterized by massive open-pit and underground operations excavated with a variety of giant machinery and explosives. These operations have grown in the past century to produce increasingly larger amounts of waste rock, tailings, and land-surface disruption. Technology has allowed the mining of rock containing increasingly lower concentrations of metals, for example, with resulting increases in the quantities of waste materials (Hitzman, 2002). In the case of coal and aggregate mining, automation and technology at mine sites and efficient transportation methods have lowered the cost of moving larger and larger amounts of rock. In most cases, operators attempt to contain the rock, water, and potentially toxic materials generated by the mining processes in order to avoid the type of wide dispersion of large-volume waste that characterized historical hydraulic mining. Also, modern regulations generally require operators to attempt various forms of reclamation of mined land depending upon the type of operation. Reclamation in the case of large open-pit metal mines in the United States and elsewhere typically is not performed with the intent of restoring the original landscape. (Restoration implies returning mined land to an approximation of its original contour, use, or condition.) Reclamation for large open-pit features generally is associated with stabilizing tailings piles rather than refilling open pits because the costs of the latter could be prohibitive. Moreover, the tailings and other debris could be mined again in the future, given technological advances sufficient to extract the gold and other metals that remain in small concentrations. Atencio (2001) provides one overview of the debate over modern reclamation issues associated with open-pit mining, and the wide range of estimates for cleanup costs. Humphries and Vincent (2000, p. CRS–11§) discuss reclamation and bonding regulations enacted in 2001 by the United States Federal Government to govern the surface impacts of hardrock mining on federal lands.
In contrast, modern reclamation associated with open-pit nonmetal mines (for example, for coal in Wyoming and West Virginia, or phosphate in Idaho) generally can restore landforms and vegetation to an approximation of original conditions because excavations are filled while mining proceeds. In these cases, operators remove vegetation, soil, and overburden to expose the coal or other resource. After miners extract the resource, they replace and grade the overburden and cover it with soil and vegetation. The entire mining operation is scheduled so that as one area is being mined, another is being reclaimed. Within a few seasons following high-quality reclamation practices, the reclaimed strip-mined lands may show little evidence of having been mined.
Underground mining typically results in far less waste being placed on the land surface than does open-pit mining. In general, underground mining is most appropriate for ores at depth and large concentrations of other minerals such as coal, and of course oil and natural gas. In recent years, it is generally ore depth that dictates underground mining rather than ore grade. High-grade material exposed at the surface is typically mined by open-pit methods. However, the grade of an ore that can be recovered economically can be influenced by social, environmental, and other conditions that could favor underground mining over open-pit mining in some situations. Although potentially having impacts on groundwater and surface water such as that discharged through adits (shafts), underground mining in many cases may have less obvious impacts on the land surface than open-pit mining. In the example above for Nigeria (p. 26, this volume), coal mining in the southeastern part of the country has not devastated the land surface like other types of mining on the Jos Plateau because the coal is obtained from adits driven into the hillsides. Underground mining has been widely popularized through literature, film, song, and other media with frequent reports about mining accidents and heroic rescue efforts displaying mining as a predominantly underground activity.
The impacts of modern hardrock mining are readily demonstrated in the enormous excavations (open pits) and massive piles of rock debris (tailings, waste, and stockpiles) at numerous gold mines throughout the Carlin Trend in Nevada. There, excavation and earthmoving on a massive scale continues as part of modern society’s relentless demand and search for gold. Individually, the open pits can be greater than 1.6 kilometers (one mile) across and perhaps 300 meters (1000 feet) deep. The total area affected by an individual mine including the area of groundwater drawdown and contamination, plus tailings disposal piles and other surficial features can extend over a few tens of square kilometers. In general, rock debris is contained at the site as engineered features such as fills, heap-leach pads, and tailings reservoirs. Groundwater is pumped out of the local environment to keep the deepening pits from filling with water, and in the case of the Carlin Trend mines, is discharged mainly as surface water to the Humboldt River. After open-pit excavation ceases, water accumulates to form pit lakes with varying degrees of water quality depending upon a variety of chemical and hydrologic factors. The National Research Council (1999, p. 150-152) also notes that the regional concentration of a large number of gold mines along the Carlin Trend in 29quality reclamation practices, the reclaimed strip-mined lands may show little evidence of having been mined.
The examples discussed above are intended to illustrate the conflicted nature of mining that includes the rapid creation of wealth, dramatic societal transformations, and long-term social and environmental costs. These examples are part of the more vivid legacy of mining practices that have occurred around the world, and represent an enduring face of mining most apparent to the public.
|“The extent of damage to the environment caused by some mining operations was only understood after they had shut down, and many of the original owners have long since disappeared from the scene. Notwithstanding, serious environmental problems of yesteryear are still with us, such as abandoned radioactive tailings piles, mercury and other toxic heavy (base) metals entering the food chain, leakages and failures of tailings dams, invasion and depletion of aquifers, surface land subsidence and caving, acid mine drainage affecting wide areas, and abandoned mines requiring remediation. In some cases, environmental damage from mining is ongoing at existing or recently mined sites, such as Summitville, in Colorado.” (Marcus 1997, p. 8).|
Despite the mining industry’s essential role as the main source of society’s raw materials and energy, a major player in global economics, and contributor to international security, most people have limited exposure to mining and its consequences. Marcus (1997, p. 9), Danni (1997, p. 719), and Born (1997, p. 721), in trying to assess public awareness of the mining industry, made several observations about public perceptions that offer a starting point for understanding how people think about the mining industry. They conclude that people strongly associate mining with underground methods, believe aboveground methods scar the land, believe mining harms the environment, and believe mining to be inherently destructive; that it serves no real purpose, and that it cannot be environmentally sound. Nor do people distinguish between large-scale and small-scale or artisanal mining. To the broader public, it is all “mining”. The public believes the industry to be isolationist, perhaps because its activities generally take place in remote areas, or because of the somewhat secretive nature of minerals exploration and development. The public believes that the mining industry exploits its workers. The public believes the industry to be very conservative and unwilling to change its practices appreciably. The public is commonly unaware of the benefits of mining to daily life, and they are unaware of the mining industry’s reclamation efforts. They are unaware of the global moves in the mining industry in recent years towards environmental awareness and performance. Additionally, the public mistrusts large companies in general, and that level of mistrust has grown substantially during the past three decades (MORI, 1999§).
Many people form an opinion of resource extraction on the basis of economic, environmental, aesthetic, or religious grounds. For example, people in highly developed countries tend to favor environmental quality over resource extraction, apparently with the view that the resources they increasingly demand can be obtained elsewhere. People in developing countries, seeing resources exploitation as an avenue to economic growth, may offer tax incentives to support mining, and hold environmental and other regulations to a minimum. In contrast, other developing countries demand environmental protection and a variety of other conditions before they will provide minerals and other materials to the global market.
People and societies tend to be strongly conflicted over religious beliefs and practical assessments about natural resources available for society’s ends. Since the arrival of European peoples, the North American continent has been a battleground over religious values about the land, not only between European and Native American societies, but also among the European immigrants and their descendants. American artist Thomas Cole (1836§) expressed the dilemma of watching beautiful landscapes passing away before logging, mining, and other elements of human endeavor while acknowledging the contribution of these activities to human progress. Perry Miller (1956) explored the religious dimension of this dilemma in detail, tracing the issue from the Puritan settlers to the America that arose from World War II. He argued that American settlers went forward with a view of the landscape as a holy object, with its beauty, richness, and bounty providing evidence of God’s love. Nonetheless, this same land was given by God to provide the materials the settlers wanted to build farmlands, cities, transportation corridors, and all else society could envision. Miller (1956, p. 205-216) presents the continuing dilemma of “...the American theme, of nature versus civilization,” wherein there is a profound conflict between the religious belief in unlimited resources provided by a bountiful God and the practical matters of exploiting these resources to construct the vast American civilization.
“The belief in the inexhaustibility of western resources was superimposed on an attitude toward the land that Americans had inherited from generations past. In the Judeo-Christian view, God created the world for man. Man was the master of nature rather than a part of it. The resources of the earth – soil, water, plants, animals, insects, rocks, fish, birds, air – were there for his use, and his proper role was to dominate. It was natural then for God’s children to harvest the rich garden provided for them by their Creator. They went into the West to do God’s bidding, to use the land as he willed, to fulfill a destiny.
This attitude of man-over-nature was not universal. Like most primitive cultures throughout history, it was not held by the American Indian. The Indian saw himself as a part of nature, not its master. He felt a close kinship with the earth and all living things. Black Elk, a holy man of the Oglala Sioux, for example, believed that all living things were the children of the sky, their father, and the earth, their mother. He had a special reverence for ‘the earth, from whence we came and at whose breast we suck as babies all our lives, along with the animals and birds and trees and grasses.’ Creation legends of many tribes illustrate the Indian’s familial attachment to the earth and his symbiotic relationship with other forms of life. The land to the Indians was more than merely a means of livelihood for the current generation. It belonged not only to them, the living, but to all generations of their people, those who came before and those who would come after. They could not separate themselves from the land.” (Hague, 1977§)
As described in the Crandon Mine example (Appendix A.), many people oppose or support resource development because of its varied impacts on the quality of their lives. Some embrace resource extraction as an economic means to a better life. Others do not want the changes imposed by resource extraction, and offer strong resistance to intrusion. People typically find strong reasons to oppose or support resource development based on the location of the resource with respect to their immediate environment. In addition, people will oppose or support resource development in locations they have never seen or might never visit because of their beliefs about effects on the common good.
An example of this phenomenon involves opposition to the proposal by Crown Butte Resources, Ltd. to develop the New World gold mine near Yellowstone National Park in Montana, USA. The proposed mining location was about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) from the northeastern corner of the park. People and organizations including U.S. President William J. Clinton and the United Nations World Heritage Committee applied political pressure at the state, federal and even international level to stop the project. The broad opposition to the project, based primarily on fears that mining operations might cause damage to parkland resources and recreational assets, convinced Crown Butte Resources, Ltd. to abandon the project. In August 1998, the U.S. Government paid Crown Butte Resources. Ltd. $65 million, of which $22.5 million would be allocated for cleaning up the abandoned mine site (Randolph, 1998).
People have a powerful sense of place and attachment to specific places. The sense of place accumulates over generations and invests people with significant (and often unappreciated) knowledge of their local environment (Sagoff, 2000, p. 140; Kemmis, 1990). People and cultures belonging to a place (aboriginal people, as an important modern example) tend to have unique insights into their local environment that may be unappreciated by those wishing to exploit that environment (Pasco-Font, 1997§; The Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development Project, 2002, p. 200). These cultures commonly claim not only legal rights, but also moral and spiritual rights to the land they occupy. In addition, cultures with a strong sense of place are likely to have unique perspectives on what is important, and are likely to be driven by different sets of values than intruders (Pasco-Font, 1997§; Steelman, in press). In the United States, for example, the successful campaign to limit and eventually close a sand, gravel, and pumice mine was based on the sacred reputation of the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona to many local Native American tribes (McLeod, 2000; USDA Forest Service, 2000§). Thus, indigenous peoples commonly maintain religious and social values that contradict the interests, wishes, and reasoning of mining companies, government authorities, or other entities that attempt to introduce significant change. Modern attention to the values of indigenous peoples, however, has produced a trend in recent years for the public, extractive industries, and others to recognize the special claim of indigenous people to the land they occupy.
The examples in Appendix A and Robinson and Brown (2002) suggest that people directly affected by mining would like to be compensated fairly for the disruption of their lives. They want to be consulted well in advance of any activity that could disrupt their lives (The Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development Project, 2002, p. 198). They have a very different perspective on time than mining industry representatives. For example, even a 30-year lifetime of a mining operation from opening to reclamation spans the bulk of human adult life, and people tend to be more interested in sustaining their communities than in sustaining mining at the expense of their communities (Appendix A). They commonly see their existing economy and cultural situation as self-sustaining and independent; they want independence from the imposition of governance by the mining community or other outside entities; they want truth, openness, information, and clear explanations about what is happening to them; they want to be heard (The Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development Project, 2002, p. 198-201). If they are accepting of mining in their community, they want their skills used in the mining operation. People want trust, transparency, access and openness (International Institute for Environment and Development, 2002c, p. 198-202§; Appendix A.). People want scenarios that allow them to identify and understand the times and places to take action. They have legitimate, aesthetic reasons to object to landscape alterations. They want the industry to take responsibility for cleaning up what it has desecrated in the past. They want continuity and a greater stability than that provided by a “boom and bust” economy (Task 2 Work Group, MMSD North America, p. 19).
In contrast to communities that resist or place great restrictions on the minerals industry, there are those communities that embrace its presence. Fairbanks, Alaska is an example of a community with a foundation in mining and continuity of growth during the past century. The city was founded in 1902 during the Klondike gold rush, and owes its existence to the gold mining industry (Kinross Gold Corporation, 2001a§). In 2001, Fairbanks had a population of about 80,000 people, and was the second largest community in Alaska. The local economy is broadly based, providing services for the interior of Alaska, and having significant military and government sectors. The Fort Knox gold mine, developed in 1995-96, and the True North deposit, developed in 2001, together provide a work force of about 1,700 people in the Fairbanks area. Kinross Gold Corporation (2001a§) estimates the total economic impact of Fort Knox and True North to be approximately $132 million over the lives of the mines. As a “good neighbor” to Fairbanks, Kinross operates under a comprehensive environmental management system that describes standards for all activities throughout the mining cycle, and has won awards for its reclamation and other environmentally conscious practices. Kinross Gold Corporation (2001b§) believes: “...outstanding environmental performance is simply good business, and makes an environmental commitment extending from exploration to reclamation, and to all operations, wherever located.” During 2000, Kinross spent $9.6 million on reclamation and site closure activities at the True North project, and reclaimed about 500 hectares (1235 acres) of mined lands. In addition, Kinross participates in a global initiative coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Council on Mining and Metals (p. 74-75, this volume) to develop voluntary codes of practice for cyanide management (United Nations Environment Programme, 2001c).
Despite modern reclamation and other activities such as those near Fairbanks, the industry is generally not prominent enough in the public eye to enjoy widespread acceptance of its practices. Today, as throughout history, the numbers of people affected by mining are far greater than the numbers employed by the industry. Snow and Juhas (2002, p. 7) show that mining employment in the United States (including employment in finished mineral products to the point of first sale) dropped from 1,200,000 people in 1920 to fewer than 500,000 people at the turn of the 21st century. Thus, the mining work force has dropped from about 4.2 percent to 0.4 percent of the population of the United States, a trend seen by Snow and Juhas (2002) as significantly reducing the influence of the industry on public opinion. Far greater numbers of even the less attentive public now look across, read about, or view on television or computer screens land that is being mined today or was mined tens to thousands of years ago, and form immediate opinions of mining. Under this reality, mining at the outset of the 21st century, to an extent unprecedented in human history, is seldom isolated from public scrutiny.
The scrutiny has become more intense because people around the globe increasingly believe a healthful environment is a basic human right. As Shabecoff (2000, p. 25) observes, “Many governments now acknowledge that the ecological health of the planet is essential to national and collective security. Few countries are without some kind of environmental protection agency.” However, people tend not to recognize the environmental consequences of demanding specific quantities and qualities of aluminum, copper, lead, sulfur, and other materials. They are strongly focused on their immediate environments, and are not highly motivated to decrease their demands. For the United States, for example, Shabecoff (2000, p. 26) remarks: “Although the great majority of Americans support environmental goals, that support may be shallow among many or most of them. Many people seem to have only a loose grasp of the dimensions of the problems and show little willingness to make any but the slightest changes in lifestyle.” Marcus (1997, p. 35) corroborates this impression, stating particularly with respect to mining that “...most Americans want some, as yet to be defined, positive action to be undertaken in order to at least protect if not better the environment, but without causing too much self-interference and ‘pain’.” Pfister and Messerli (1990, p. 650-651) state for Switzerland that “Discussion in the media and popular votes suggest that a profound change in values is underway. The ethic to do no harm to the biosphere is widely shared. Concern for nature has reached the top of the political agenda; hence the readiness to invest in new technologies (such as the catalytic converter) to improve the quality of the environment. On the other hand, the values are not strong enough yet to bring about changes in the way of life – unlimited mobility by automobile has become a fundamental right – or to check the market system in those domains in which it obviously promotes environmental degradation.” Nonetheless, there are increasing expectations for products that consume less energy and whose production results in less environmental harm, as well as products that have been produced with less energy and lower emissions of toxic substances.
According to Ropiek (2000), people hold large measures of uncertainty and misunderstanding that drive their beliefs about resource supplies. Ropiek (2000) further states that people commonly believe they lack personal control over the resources they demand, which contributes to uncertainty. They are typically more afraid of immediate problems with resources availability (for example, gasoline supplies) than with chronic problems that demand their attention over the long term (for example, greenhouse gases). They accept natural dangers, but fear the dangers created by human technology (Ropiek, 2000). The more they perceive a benefit from using a resource, the less they fear the risks associated with that use, whether to themselves or the larger society (Ropiek, 2000). They tend to resist barriers to resource use that are imposed upon them, and prefer to set their own standards of voluntary compliance with others’ guidelines (Ropiek, 2000).
|Table 1: Issues and stakeholders in a hypothetical mining project (Ostensson, 2001, p. 3-25)|
Economic return of
and land use
Social and cultural
|Impacts on biodiversity||X||XX||X||XX||XXX||XX||XXX|
According to MORI (1999§) and Edelman Public Relations Worldwide (2000§), average citizens have increasingly developed a limited belief in the findings of experts over the past several decades. Much of this probably comes from uncertainty created through divergent expert opinions on the same issue. There is a tendency in modern media and politics to attempt to provide strongly opposite rather than central or consensus views on almost every subject, with the potential effect of leading people to disregard experts who cannot agree. People then look within their own spheres towards those they think they can trust, and place a stronger belief, for example, in representatives of quasi-governmental or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) than in corporations or national governments. There is also a trend over the past several decades towards increasing distrust in corporate and governmental experts. For example, according to MORI (1999§), the British public is increasingly cynical about big business despite rising expectations of the corporate world, specifically with regard to social and environmental responsibility. According to Edelman Public Relations Worldwide (2000§), NGOs are trusted nearly two to one to "do what is right" compared to government, media, or corporations. Nearly two-thirds of respondents say that corporations care only about profits, while well over half say that NGOs "represent values I believe in." As a result, NGOs such as the Mineral Policy Center and the Sierra Club, and similar community or civil society groups have become increasingly well established and organized in many countries since the early 1990s. These groups succeed by addressing issues that matter to the individual, whether at the local level or within the framework of the individual’s worldview. Edelman Public Relations Worldwide (2000§) has found that NGOs such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and World Wildlife Fund have greater credibility than such corporations as Exxon, Ford, Microsoft, Monsanto, and Nike. Edelman Public Relations Worldwide (2000§) also states, “Eighty percent of United States respondents view Greenpeace as highly effective and 78 percent see Amnesty International as highly effective,” and “Only 11 percent of United States respondents see government or companies as ‘making the world a better place’.” NGOs now form influential lobby groups in many national and international arenas, and they command a wide range of activities related to environment, land use, and other aspects of resources development. The outlook at the outset of the 21st century is that NGOs and related groups have the foundation and potential to become more important and more influential with respect to corporate and governmental policy worldwide.
All together these trends imply important challenges for the mining and other resources extraction industries in the 21st century. The commentary for the United Nations Pacific Economic Co-operation Committee Minerals Forum by Balkau and Parsons (p. 20, this volume) exemplifies these challenges. Mainly, the call is for attending to a host of issues, actors, and trends that will make resources extraction more complicated for the foreseeable future (Table 1.). The extractive industries together with society at large are being charged with somehow overcoming the built-in antagonism between environmental quality and economic growth (Shabecoff, 2000, p. 22). The industries most likely will be pushed in the direction of more environmentally benign extractive activities, while the rest of society will be pressed towards some agreeable level of coexistence with extractive industries.
Land available for mining in the United States
Mined land in the United States
In the United States, mining as a specific land-use activity in the 1990s constituted less than 6 million acres (2.4 million hectares) or about 0.2 percent of the approximately 2.27 billion acres (918 million hectares) of total land area (Minerals Information Institute, 2000). For comparison, the MII estimates that cities and towns occupy about 78 million acres (32 million hectares), and that about 32 million acres (13 million hectares) are given over to highways, for a total of about 110 million acres (45 million hectares). Private agricultural lands occupy about 983 million acres (398 million hectares), and about 50 million acres (20 million hectares) are covered with water bodies. Note that all these land-use categories may include areas of mining, including aggregate mining within highway right-of-ways before, during, and after highway construction. The discussion beginning on page 49 (this volume) provides details about Federal lands that comprise about 700 million acres (283 million hectares) of National Parks and Forests, fish and wildlife conservation areas, Indian trust lands, and the Federal estate available for mineral and energy development.
The overwhelming acreage used for mining produces nonmetals (aggregates, for example) and coal. Mining for metals, by comparison, uses less than 10 percent of the land used for mining nonmetals and fuels (Minerals Information Institute, 2000). The figures refer to the approximate area of mined land, and do not include, for example, transportation corridors to and from mined lands, and other uses (transportation, processing, and manufacturing) essential to converting mined materials into various products. Nor does mined area include the sphere of influence of mined lands having impacts on the surrounding air, land, and water (p. 29, this volume). Mining activities can impact large areas of the surrounding environment as occurs, for example, through groundwater drawdown surrounding large open-pit mines (Federal Register, 2000, p. 70045§), building transportation and utility corridors, riverine or oceanic dumping of tailings and tailings dam failures (United Nations Environment Programme, 2001a; WISE Uranium Project, 2001§; Plumlee, and others, 2000), combined with other activities. Nonetheless, the figures for mined land show that the bulk of mineral demand in the United States is being met using a relatively small percentage of the nation’s land and imports from other parts of the world.
Perceptions of the sphere of influence of mining:
“However, it should be noted that impacts from mining operations and many other activities on public lands cannot be confined exclusively to the area of direct surface disturbance. Impacts to many resources transcend the direct disturbance boundary due to the nature of the effect. Visual impacts can often be seen for miles. Noise from operations can be heard a good distance from the project area. Wildlife may be displaced. Impacts to such resources as water and air will extend beyond the immediate disturbance due to the establishment of compliance points and mixing zones by other regulatory agencies. Due to the nature of mining, these situations will occur even with model operations that are in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.” (Federal Register 2000, p. 70045§)
The amount of land classified as being actively mined in the United States probably will not increase at a rapid rate primarily because of modern land reclamation requirements that seek to have mined lands transformed for other uses (Table 3). Thus, land classification will reflect a new category of use following reclamation. Modern coal mining, for example, typically demonstrates a continuous process of mining and land reclamation, with about 75 percent of lands mined for coal having been restored for other potential uses during the 20th century. The perspective for lands used for aggregate mining is similar, with mined areas being reclaimed for a variety of uses after materials are extracted (Dunphy, 1998; Robinson and Brown, 2002). In the case of aggregate mining, the industry has been producing more crushed stone from rock quarries than sand and gravel from glaciofluvial deposits since 1974 (Tepordei, 2001, p. 13). Because rock quarries produce large amounts of aggregates from significantly smaller areas than alluvial deposits, there is a trend toward reducing the total area of the United States being actively mined for aggregates. This is a significant trend because aggregate mining accounts for more than one-half of all mining in the United States on the basis of either weight or volume (Tepordei, 2001, p. 13).
Reclamation trends for aggregate quarries:
Residential developments, parks, commercial sites and landfills have all been traditional end uses for mined out aggregate quarries. Golf courses are being planned and developed in mine sites. Quarries converted into ponds and lakes can become productive wildlife habitat and provide a favorable setting for residential developments. Quarry pits are also used as groundwater recharge basins. In some cases, mining companies forego depleting the entire reserves of an aggregate quarry in favor of reserving land for future and more profitable valued real estate development. (Dunphy, 1998, p. 28)
The federal estate available for energy and minerals development
According to Gorte and Vincent (2001§), the Federal government owns about 655 million acres (265 million hectares) of land, or about 28 percent of the total land area of the United States. Lands under American Indian and Alaska Native sovereignty (Indian trust lands) comprise about 56 million acres (23 million hectares). These and other lands (because of the disposition of mineral rights on Indian trust lands) compose the Federal estate of greater than 700 million acres (283 million hectares) that are potentially available for mineral development.
Federal Land Management in the United States, 1995:
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) together manage 456 million acres (185 million hectares) of land, or 70 percent of that owned by the federal government. Other agencies, notably the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) of DOI manage, respectively, 78 million acres (32 million hectares) in National Parks and about 88 million acres (36 million hectares) for the conservation and protection of fish and wildlife (Cody, 1995§). BLM itself manages 264 million acres (107 million hectares) of land, predominantly in Alaska and 11 western states, of which about 150 million acres (61 million hectares) is managed for grazing. The USFS administers 192 million acres (78 million hectares) of federal land, also concentrated in the American West. (Gorte and Vincent, 2000§; Cody 1995§)
“The BLM administers the mineral resources of the onshore Federal estate available for development, regardless of surface and subsurface management jurisdiction. The entire surface and subsurface Federal estate subject to mineral development totals 732 million acres (296.2 million hectares). [Other sources, including BLM, claim BLM’s jurisdiction over mineral development to cover 700 million acres (283.3 million hectares) in 2001 (U.S. Bureau of Land Management, 2001a).] Some minerals are available for development under the mining laws; others are developed through a leasing system. Authorities for disposition of mineral lands and resources are primarily found in the General Mining Law (Mining Act of 1872§), the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920§, the Mineral Leasing Act for Acquired Lands of 1947§, and the Materials Disposal Act of 1947§. Activities governed by these laws include the location and patenting of mining claims for hard rock minerals, competitive and noncompetitive leasing of lands for leaseable minerals (oil, gas, coal, potash, geothermal energy, and certain other minerals), and the sale or free disposal of common mineral materials not subject to the mining or leasing laws. Authorities for mining, leasing, and royalties may differ for public domain and acquired lands.”
At one time, BLM also had responsibility for Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) leasing. In 1982, a Department of the Interior reorganization placed the Minerals Management Service (MMS) in charge of all OCS leasing. Now, BLM is responsible for administering all onshore energy and mineral resources, while MMS is responsible for all OCS leasing and also management of revenues derived from onshore and OCS leasing.”
Federal land withdrawals
Federal land withdrawals are actions that restrict the use or disposition of public lands. For example, Federal land, such as that in National Monuments or National Forests, can be and has been withdrawn from mineral development, generally to study or protect certain natural and cultural resources (USDA Forest Service, 1999§). Although the discussion on pages 47-51 suggests a vast Federal estate available for minerals and energy development, there are significant legal, political, economic, and temporal barriers to access this estate by the extractive industries. As the figures above show, about 166 million acres (67.2 million hectares) of Federal lands are managed as National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges. National Parks are generally inaccessible for minerals exploitation, although mining such as gravel mining for road construction and maintenance does occur in these preserves. As of the year 2000, approximately 4,000 abandoned mines and 150 active mine sites existed within National Parks (Arbogast and others, 2000, p. 5). In National Wildlife Refuges, restrictions on access and practices by the minerals industry commonly inhibit economic mining activity. Wilderness and roadless area designations on other Federal lands similarly may preclude ready access to mineral resources. In some cases land is reserved for specific uses such as existing development or military operations, and these uses may rule out locating mining claims and granting leases.
Partly because of the tension between environmental protection and resource exploitation, extractive industries face increasingly protracted processes for developing projects on public lands. In some cases, although access to public lands is expressly allowed, the time and effort to complete a permitting process can jeopardize the economic viability of the project. As indicated by Strusacker (1997, p. 359) “...the nature of regulatory and political atmosphere with respect to mining is the most influential factor in determining whether permitting a project will be relatively straightforward and easy, or complex and difficult.” Thus, accessing land available for mining becomes complicated by investing in managing political issues surrounding the proposed work, and the costs of producing a suite of technical and environmental studies.
According to the BLM, of the approximately 700 million acres (283 million hectares) of federal subsurface minerals under the agency's jurisdiction in 2000, approximately 165 million acres (67 million hectares) or about 24 percent have been withdrawn from mineral entry, leasing, and sale, subject to valid existing rights. Lands in the National Park System (except National Recreation Areas), Wilderness Preservation System, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) are among those that are statutorily withdrawn. Also, mineral development on another 182 million acres (74 million hectares) of this 700 million acres (283 million hectares) is subject to the approval of the surface management agency, and must conform to land designations and plans. National Wildlife Refuges (except ANWR), wilderness study areas, and roadless areas, among others, fall in this category.
Wilderness Designations and Mineral Rights:
Wilderness designations are often controversial because wilderness areas have strict management and use limitations. Wilderness is "undeveloped Federal land ... without permanent improvements," and is to be managed to protect and preserve the natural conditions. Permanent improvements, such as roads and buildings, and activities which alter existing natural conditions, such as timber harvesting, are prohibited in wilderness areas. The Wilderness Act provided one temporary exception to the management restrictions: mineral exploration and leasing was allowed in wilderness areas for 20 years, until December 31, 1983. In addition, Congress specifically directed that livestock grazing be continued and that valid existing mineral rights be pursued under reasonable regulations to permit development while preserving wilderness characteristics. (Cody, 1995§)
According to Humphries and Vincent (2001§), the Federal Land Policy Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) mandated review of public land withdrawals in 11 Western states to determine whether, and for how long, existing withdrawals should be continued. BLM continues to review approximately 70 million withdrawn acres (28 million hectares), giving priority to about 26 million acres (11 million hectares) that are expected to be returned by another agency to BLM, or, in the case of BLM withdrawals, made available for one or more uses. As of November 2000, BLM has completed review of approximately 7 million withdrawn acres (3 million hectares), mostly BLM and Bureau of Reclamation land, and the withdrawals on more than 6 million of these acres (2 million hectares) have been revoked. According to the BLM Manual, retention of a withdrawal requires a compelling show of need, and an agency manager "recommending that lands not be opened to multiple use, particularly mining and mineral leasing, must convince the BLM Directory, Secretary, and watchful segments of the public, that there is no reasonable alternative to continued withdrawal or classification." The review process is likely to continue over the next several years, in part because the withdrawals must be considered in BLM's planning process and be supported by documentation under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA)§.
Mineral industry representatives maintain that federal withdrawals inhibit mineral exploration and limit the reserve base even when conditions are favorable for production. Mineral reserves are not renewable. Thus, they argue that whether minerals are in the public or private sector, without new reserves or technological advancements, mineral production costs may rise. As a result, according to the industry, exploration on foreign soil has increased (Hitzman, 2002), raising the risk to investors and boosting import dependence. In this view, governmental policies that increase costs to the mineral industry may result in increased costs to society. Mining industry supporters also assert that too much land has been unnecessarily withdrawn from mining, through administrative actions, in order to pursue preservation goals.
Critics of access to public lands by the mineral industry (particularly under the Mining Act of 1872§) believe that in many cases there is no way to protect other land values and uses short of withdrawal of lands from development under the law. For example, they point to areas that have been mined for hardrock minerals in the past, leaving open pits, tailings piles, toxic discharges, and other features that were abandoned without being treated or reclaimed. They show examples of problems with mining wastes that have gone untreated for centuries, and those that will require maintenance for centuries in the future. They cite cases where the sphere of influence of mining (for example, noise, dust and other emissions to the atmosphere, groundwater drawdown, transportation access, and a host of other effects) extends onto adjacent public lands well beyond the boundaries set aside for mining (Federal Register, 2000, p. 70045§). They also cite instances where minerals development has in the past or could in the future spoil scenic, historic, cultural, and other resources on public land.
Socio-economic changes and federal lands:
“The population of many of the western mining states is increasing rapidly, often with people who come from regions where hardrock mining has not been a common activity. Consequently, new residents may have values and interests that differ substantially from those of other residents who depend on mining for jobs and opportunities. In addition, the U.S. population today generally expects more from its federal lands – more recreational opportunities, more wildlife and habitat protection, more watershed protection, more timber and forage production, more historic and cultural preservation, more sensitivity to tribal concerns, as well as more mineral activities. It is likely to become increasingly difficult to find sites that will not stimulate some opposition from groups with competing values and interests in the same lands.” (National Research Council, 1999, p. 34)
As of 2002, the controversy over public lands continues. The mining industry and its adherents are attempting to overturn or modify legislation promulgated in 2000 that allows the BLM to deny expansion of existing mines or begin new ones if the plan suggests “unnecessary or undue degradation” of the land in question. Detailed discussions about “unnecessary or undue degradation” are included in questions to and responses by the Bureau of Land Management published in the Federal Register (2000, p. 69997-70046§) including definition of the phrase on pages 70015-70018, and frequent discussion of the concept throughout. Despite any distribution of lands -- public or private, readily accessible or mandated to be off limits to development -- the mining industry has a major stake in gaining access to areas where the resources can be most economically extracted, and other parties have strong interests in prohibiting mining. As many past and current situations illustrate, the demands of mining routinely come into conflict with other uses of the land.
Federal land use trends and mining
Between 1785 and 2000, the United States Federal government transferred approximately 1.1 billion acres (445 million hectares) of Federal land to state, local and private ownership (U.S. Bureau of Land Management, 2001b). If current trends continue, the Federal government will probably continue to transfer lands out of its ownership in the 21st century as it adjusts for changing demands for mineral development and other uses. The pace of transfer and the size of parcels the government transfers could be reduced from similar activities of the past two centuries. Additionally, the Federal government is likely to continue the process of withdrawing land for studies of alternative uses, reviewing withdrawals, and revoking withdrawals in favor of minerals and other development (p. 52, this volume). The land withdrawal process can be seen as embodying societal values about the use of public lands in the United States as reflected in the actions of the U.S. Congress.
Gorte and Vincent (2001§) describe continuing issues for the United States Congress with respect to Federal lands. The issues typically surround reconciling different perspectives on lands the Federal government should own. Questions include:
- How much land should be acquired from or conveyed to state, local, or private ownership, and under what circumstances?
- Should the non-federal role in managing Federal lands be expanded?
- How should land acquisition be funded, and what are the concerns about acquiring private land?
- How effective are Federal land exchange programs?
- Should funds be appropriated to reduce the backlog in maintaining Federal lands as an alternative to new acquisitions?
- How should the congress balance multiple uses of public lands in terms of resource extraction, preservation, and wildlife protection?
- To what extent should Congress support traditional commodity uses, primarily mining, oil and gas production, livestock grazing, and timber harvesting?
- Historically, Federal resources have supported local economies; however, how does the Congress treat the more recent trend toward non-development values?
Gorte and Vincent (2001§) further note that, at the outset of the 21st century, the United States Congress continues debating issues related to land and resource protection, such as designating national monuments and other protected areas, funding for wildfire protection, and regulatory changes for mining and roadless areas. Other issues relate to setting fees, for such uses as rights of way and livestock grazing; collecting revenues, for example, by imposing royalties on mining; and regulating the environmental effects of land uses. The effect of these efforts on land uses and the role of Congress, states, and the public in determining use and protection are among the controversies. All of these issues relate to the relative ease or difficulty of obtaining mineral supplies from Federal lands, and illustrate the complexity and persistence of issues affecting supply. Currently (2002), there are about 3,100 protected areas on public lands in the United States comprising nearly 13 percent of the U.S. land area (World Resources Institute, 2000a).
Non-federal lands available for mining
As indicated previously (p. 47, this volume), cities, towns and highways occupy about 110 million acres (45 million hectares) of land, private agricultural lands occupy about 983 million acres (398 million hectares), and about 50 million acres (20 million hectares) are covered with water bodies in the United States. Mining activities of various types occur within all these categories. For example, aggregate mining is common within and near cities, towns, and highways. In many coastal areas of the United States, sand is mined in the offshore environment for beach replenishment and other uses. Oil and gas drilling take place on private agricultural lands and in water bodies. Accessing mineral resources on these lands is conditioned on factors such as the cost of purchasing or leasing the land for mining, obtaining permits, complying with zoning regulations, changing zoning through a political process, overcoming political resistance to mining, and other related factors. In many cases, the mining industry has access to resources through subsurface mineral rights that are superior to the rights of the surface landowner.
Urban and suburban expansions, including highways and other transportation corridors, tend to preclude both new mining for resources covered by development and additional mining after new development takes place. In the extreme, the land occupied by cities and towns at the beginning of the 21st century could be considered off limits to new mining. However, urban and suburban land use is dynamic, and access to subsurface resources comes and goes with physical and political changes at the surface. Land-use zoning can be changed from agricultural or residential to allow industrial activities such as aggregate mining (Robinson and Brown, 2002). Large swaths of land can be condemned, particularly for highways and water resources development, thus freeing the land particularly for aggregate mining to support that development. If surface mining is impossible because of the presence of buildings, mining in favorable cases can proceed beneath the buildings via surface entry at some distance from the development.
There are approximately 281 million people in the United States at the outset of the 21st century. Projections for population growth suggest that the number of people will increase to about 413 million people by 2050, and roughly double the 2000 population by the end of this century (Population Reference Bureau, 2001§). The expected addition of another 250 to 300 million to the United States population during the 2100s could result in major new cities evolving from smaller towns or evolving in places that do not yet have significant development. Assuming the current ratio of people to built-up areas in 2000, and estimating the population of the United States at about 550 million people by 2100, one scenario could be a doubling of the land demanded for new cities, towns and highways. (Other scenarios might argue for more or less than a one-to-one ratio between population and developed land). This means an additional 70 to 80 million acres (28 to 32 million hectares) of land could be converted to urban and suburban regions during the next 100 years, and up to 30 million acres (12 million hectares) converted to highways in the absence of major changes in transportation technology. The bulk of this land conversion would probably occur in the vicinity of existing major metropolitan cores (Mitchell, 2001), and could be accommodated primarily by transforming rural lands and private agricultural lands into cities, towns, and transportation corridors. This implies diminishing opportunities with time to exploit the mineral resources on these lands while permanent to semi-permanent development proceeds at the surface. There are many scenarios for the sources of land for new urban and suburban development, but trends indicate that the greater part this land will likely come from private ownership and particularly from agricultural lands in the vicinity of existing, major metropolitan regions. The composite image of the United States shown in Mitchell (2001, p. 56-57) illustrates the strong trend for new and rapid development in the immediate vicinity of major urban areas for 1993-2001.
Possibilities also exist for lesser increases in urban-suburban development per capita during the 2000 – 2100. A modern analysis of land transformations to accommodate population growth for the Albuquerque, New Mexico region indicate trends toward in-fill development in existing urban areas, and modest decreases in urbanized area per capita in existing cities (Table 4.). Further work is needed to determine whether the Albuquerque scenario could be representative of other growing metropolitan areas, and whether this portends a diminishing per capita demand during the 2100s for the materials used to construct cities, towns, and transportation corridors.
Uncertainties influencing mineral exploration
The ease of managing political issues and gaining acceptance of technical and environmental studies for mineral exploration varies from place to place. In the United States at the turn of the 21st century, California, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin (Appendix A.) are particularly difficult places in which to permit a mining project, whereas Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Alaska pose fewer obstacles. On a more global scale in the year 2000, the South and Central American countries of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Peru generally posed significantly less investment risk in terms of developing projects than Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and western Canada. However, for additional reasons, including lower prices and decreased demand for copper, Fredricksen and Jones (2001) note that mining companies are tending to decrease their rate of investment for exploration in Chile and Peru despite the significant mineral endowments and comparative ease of permitting mining operations in those countries.
Some uncertainties that influence exploration investment by mining companies
• Uncertainty concerning the administration/interpretation/enforcement of existing regulations
• Environmental regulations
• Regulatory duplication and inconsistencies
• Uncertainty concerning native land claims
• Uncertainty concerning what areas will be protected as wilderness or parks
• Labour regulation/employment agreements
• Socio-economic agreements/community development conditions
• Taxation regime
• Mineral potential, assuming CURRENT regulation/land use policies
• Mineral potential, assuming NO land use restrictions in place, and further assuming that any mine
would operate to industry best practice standards
(Fredricksen and Jones (2000, p.10)
Exploration investment trends by mining companies at the turn of the 21st century give a somewhat clearer picture of the distribution of areas favorable to mining around the globe. According to Fredricksen and Jones 2001, p. 44), mining companies are generally decreasing the proportion of their exploration budgets they spend in Indonesia, Chile, Peru, and the USA. They are increasing the proportion of their exploration budgets they spend in Australia, Mexico, Brazil, and South America as a whole. Thirty-five percent of companies indicated an increase in the proportion of their exploration budgets they spend in Canada, while another 35 percent reported a decrease. In the USA, 53 percent of companies reported a decrease in the proportion of their exploration expenditures, while 30 percent indicated an increase.
Wilburn (2001, p. 41) reports worldwide exploration budgets for 2000 for 656 companies totaling $2.34 billion. About 28.3 percent of budgeted exploration expenditures for nonfuel minerals were targeted for Latin America, followed by 17.3 percent for Australia, 14.9 percent for Canada, 12.6 percent for Africa, 10.0 percent for the United States, 8.5 percent for the Pacific Region, and 8.4 percent for the rest of the World. Wilburn indicates that the world exploration budget increased steadily from 1994 through 1997, but declined substantially between 1997 and 2000. He attributes the decrease to changing exchange rates, continued low commodity prices, investor wariness for funding exploration activities, and tighter company budgets.
Analysis of exploration activity
From 1994 to 1997, exploration activity shifted away from Australia, Canada, and the United States (highly
industrialized areas with extensive past mineral exploration) toward Africa, Latin America, the Pacific and
other regions (largely developing regions with under-explored areas). During the years 1998-2000,
however, this trend apparently reversed. This was because low commodity prices, regional unrest (central
Africa), financial turmoil (Asia-Pacific) and post-Busang investor trauma all seemed to focus investor
interest toward areas with established mineral potential and away from areas with more potential risk. (Adapted from Wilburn 2001, p. 44)
For the United States, Wilburn (2001, p. 43-44) notes that new exploration activities generally require deeper and more expensive drilling. Stringent permitting standards in many states also add to the exploration cost. Investor interest in exploration in the United States varies considerably depending upon state regulatory practices. The policy climates in Nevada and Alaska are the highest rated in terms of favoring investment in mining, and Wisconsin (Appendix A.), California, Montana, and Washington are among the lowest rated.
The exploration patterns described above can be seen to reflect forward-looking decisions by the minerals industry that weigh and integrate the factors shown on page 60 (this volume), and include these factors with a spectrum of other issues such as prices and demand. In summary, the overview reinforces the existence of a highly complicated mix of sociocultural drivers and constraints that influence minerals exploration investment and consequent mineral supply.
Parks and protected areas around the globe
In 1970, North America (Canada, United States, and Mexico) contained about 800 protected areas. By 1980, that number had increased to about 1,300, and by 2002 it had increased to 2,800 (Commission for Environmental Cooperation, 2002, p. 40). These 2,800 parks and protected areas comprised about 300 million hectares (741 million acres) in 2002, or about 15 percent of the continent’s land area. Note that protected areas do not necessarily preclude mining, forestry, and other uses. However, such uses could likely face greater restrictions on protected lands than on other lands. The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (2002, p. 41) further states, “There is enormous variety in the levels of protection afforded to these areas, however, both among and within the three countries, depending on their designation. Some areas that are deemed ‘protected’ actually encourage development activities that put biodiversity at great risk.” Areas fully protected are those in which extractive activities are prohibited, and such areas account for about 5.7 percent of North America’s landmass.
There are an estimated 44,000 parks and protected areas globally, covering about 10 percent of the world's land surface (World Conservation Monitoring Centre and IUCN World Commission for Protected Areas, 1998). About 42 percent of areas designated for protection are found in developing countries. Because of population and development demands projected for the 21st century, the demand for additional protected areas beyond those that currently exist may be difficult to meet. Areas of pristine lands considered desirable for parks and protection continue to disappear rapidly due to development, whether in highly industrialized or developing countries (World Conservation Monitoring Centre and IUCN World Commission for Protected Areas, 1998). Additionally, any increases in protected areas could be nullified through neglect, inadequate funding, lack of enforcement, political transformations, and other countervailing forces that revert protected areas to developed or disturbed status (World Conservation Monitoring Centre and IUCN World Commission for Protected Areas, 1998). The result is an outlook suggesting 85 to 90 percent of global land area could continue to be available for other uses, with mineral and other development continuing to be allowed, generally with major restrictions, on some parts of the remaining 10 to 15 percent in the “protected” category.
Crandon Mining Project, Wisconsin, United States
Twenty-six years of debate and changing values
In July 1975, Exxon Coal and Minerals Company of Houston, Texas (Exxon) discovered a mineral deposit in Forest County in northern Wisconsin that was later determined to be the tenth largest zinc deposit in North America. Named for a nearby town, the Crandon mineral deposit, or orebody, contains an estimated 50 million metric tons (55 million tons) of ore, primarily zinc and copper, but also lead, silver, and gold. The deposit contains an estimated 0.93 grams (0.03 troy ounces) of gold for every ton of ore, or an estimated 51.3 million grams (1.65 million ounces) of gold. The orebody is about 1,500 meters (4,900 feet) long from east to west and about 30 meters (100 feet) wide from north to south. It begins about 60 meters (200 feet) below the surface and extends to a depth of about 670 meters (2,200 feet). About 5 percent of the material to be mined has value, and 95 percent would need to be treated as waste. The current (2001) owner, Nicolet Minerals Company (NMC), plans to extract 27 million metric tons (30 million tons) of zinc and about 23 million metric tons (25 million tons) of copper.
The mineral deposit rests at the headwaters of the Wolf River watershed, a large drainage basin that encompasses nearly all of northeastern Wisconsin. The Wolf River runs through eight counties and several Native American reservations, and its basin is known for its pristine lakes and streams, wetlands, trout fishery, and wild rice beds, among other natural and cultural amenities. Because of potential threats to the Wolf River environment, and for a host of other reasons, individuals and local, regional, national and international entities have debated the issue of whether to mine the Crandon orebody for a full quarter century. As of mid-2001, a decision on permitting for mining the Crandon orebody is still at least months in the future (Decker, 2001a§), and any permitting decision for or against mining will almost certainly be challenged. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) will release the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Crandon project as soon as groundwater flow and contaminant transport models are completed. The EIS was still being reviewed in late 2002, and the WDNR schedule indicates that the sequence of events following release of the EIS will take about 22 months to complete the permitting process. The Crandon mine will receive a permit only when it is proven to meet six criteria specified in Wisconsin state law. The criteria are: to comply with all state and federal environmental regulations; to protect public health, safety and welfare; to safeguard lands with unique features, critical ecological importance or historical value; to have a net positive socioeconomic impact; to comply with local zoning laws; and to include suitable plans for reclamation.
According to the Wisconsin Review Commission (1995§) and Naparalla (2001§), after discovering the deposit, Exxon faced a decade of strong opposition to mining compounded by falling mineral prices. Although on the verge of obtaining permits to mine, Exxon withdrew from the project in 1986. In August 1992, Exxon partnered with Phelps Dodge Mining Company of Phoenix, Arizona (Phelps Dodge) to reopen the Crandon project, but Phelps Dodge withdrew within four months. Exxon then partnered with Rio Algom Limited of Toronto, Ontario, Canada (Rio Algom) in September 1993 to create the Crandon Mining Company. In January 1998, Rio Algom purchased Exxon’s share of the project and created Nicolet Minerals Company to handle the Crandon project. On December 15, 2000 Rio Algom announced that it would transfer the Nicolet exploration project near Crandon, Wisconsin to Billiton PLC of London, U.K. (Rio Algom Limited, 2000§). Rio Algom was integrated into Billiton PLC in 2001. On June 19, 2001 the directors of BHP Limited of Melbourne, Australia and Billiton PLC announced the merger creating BHP Billiton (BHP Limited and Billiton PLC, 2001§). The new company is headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, with a corporate management center in London, United Kingdom. BHP Billiton is positioning itself to serve the mineral commodity requirements of a diverse customer base across six continents (BHP Limited, 2001, p. 2-3§), with predominance in Asia (29 percent of customers), Australia (24 percent), Europe (20 percent), and North America (17 percent).
Through purchases and leases by the succession of owners since the Exxon discovery in 1975, NMC owns and controls almost 5,000 acres of land. The mining plan indicates that mine buildings, tailings, and roads will disturb about 500 acres. The tailings management area and facilities construction will require clearing about 282 of the 500 acres. To meet regulatory requirements, industry standards, and the challenges of mining opponents, NMC’s mining plan must include, for example: complying with the provisions of Wisconsin’s Mining Moratorium Law (p. 106, this volume) and managing political relationships and contracts with various federal, state, regional, and local entities. Specific requirements include, for example, managing tailings; treating pyrite and other mining residues to control acidic drainage; storing sulfide waste underground; modeling groundwater flow during and after mining operations; treating wastewater; treating or avoiding impacts on surface waters and wetlands; developing grouting technology to control groundwater flow; handling, storing, and transporting toxic materials, including twelve million gallons of cyanide to be used for heap leaching; reclaiming (restoring) the site during and after mining operations; and ensuring performance of the reclamation or restoration effort in perpetuity (Decker, 2001b§; Nicolet Minerals Company, 2000§; Wisconsin Stewardship Network, 2000§; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 1997a§,b§). As a part of the permitting process, and in preparing a draft environmental impact study, NMC is proposing and implementing a variety of expensive, high technology engineering solutions to these problems.
Mining and the sociocultural environment in Wisconsin: Inextricably bound and changed
“But above all, the extraction of 55 million tons of copper and zinc ore would become an everyday presence for the 28 years the mine is projected to operate. In essence, it would become a marriage between the communities and Nicolet: For better or for worse, they would be inextricably bound and changed.” (Naparalla, 2000a§)
The issues surrounding the Crandon project run the gamut from local, personal, and simple to global, impersonal and complex. The issues are also colored by the passage of time. Over the course of the years since 1975, modern society has changed greatly in many ways, both technologically and socially. Accompanying these changes are major shifts in not only the types of people who are engaged in the debate over mining in general and the Crandon project in particular, but also the types of values they pursue.
In general, the public does not fully understand the structure and practices of the mining industry (p. 31-39, this volume). The extent of misunderstandings together with changing values can open or reinforce a mutual lack of trust between industry representatives and local opinion leaders. In the sociocultural environment surrounding the Crandon project, levels of trust and agreement among the parties have fluctuated considerably over time. The debate has encompassed consensus on some issues and has led to polarized entrenchment about others. With broader attention being given to the project over time, the quality of the debate has shifted dramatically as different principals – local, regional, national and international –associate or disassociate themselves with the state of affairs.
An overview of the Crandon situation in 2001; suggests that people in the region almost certainly understand an economic boom is possible if money generated by mining stays in the area and if local people become a part of the industry. There are comparisons, for example, with the recent performance of the nearby but substantially smaller Flambeau mining project near Ladysmith, Wisconsin with respect to permitting, operations, closure, reclamation, and socioeconomic impacts on the community. Kennecott Mineral Corporation and Rio Tinto Zinc, the parent companies of Flambeau Mining Company, hired 33 people locally, and mined the 1.9-million ton deposit, with an estimate value of $750 million, for four years. The Crandon orebody is about 30 times larger than the Flambeau orebody, and would be mined over about 28 years. There are concerns about how the project is valued beyond estimates for the prices and quantities of copper and zinc, prompting calls for more transparency by the industry about valuing the gold or silver to be extracted along with the copper and zinc (Wisconsin Stewardship Network, 2000a§).
People have difficulty preparing for the ‘boom-and-bust’ cycles that result from vagaries of the global minerals marketplace and consequent mine openings and closures. They probably are not aware of the spectrum of driving forces behind the shifting values of the minerals being extracted. It is not clear whether people in the region appreciate the international aspects of the mining industry as they affect the Crandon project. They do not tend to equate local mining issues with larger issues of global minerals supply and demand, sustainable development, and their personal contributions to these ends.
People do not grasp the uncertainties in computer models that project groundwater and other conditions for thousands of years into the future. They want assurances that there is funding to clean up contamination resulting from both worst case and reasonably probable mine emissions scenarios. Local people are concerned about the inability of current and previous owners of the Crandon orebody to demonstrate the ability to operate a mine safely or to gain state and federal approvals to mine in the last 26 years. Some perceive that WDNR supports the metallic mining industry, whereas the WDNR is a regulatory agency with no position in favor of or against mining. The WDNR maintains that the Wisconsin State Legislature made the policy decision on the acceptability of mining, stating: “Mining is an essential industrial activity that must be conducted in an environmentally acceptable manner.” Others are fearful about the resources of the mining industry and how it uses money, public relations, attorneys, and other advantages that might overwhelm local people and their organizations.
From a point of view based on dimensions of the orebody and the basic requirements for mining it, local people in concert with the mining companies and the WDNR have an early opportunity to understand descriptions of the land area to be impacted by mining. In the case of the Crandon project, this land area is mostly local, with direct impacts mainly in Forest County and on the towns of Crandon, Lincoln, and Nashville, for example. NMC provides a project description that includes transportation and utilities requirements in addition to proposed mine site facilities, tailings management areas, water management and treatment systems, and other constructions. In Wisconsin, local communities are required to enter into contracts with mining companies through a Local Agreement law (p. 112, this volume). In general, these local contracts can specify a variety of obligations to benefit the community and the mining company. These include zoning changes and variances, rearrangements of tax structures, compensations for loss of property values, leasing arrangements, dimensions of local hiring and training, support for new and expanded schools, additions to fire and police protection, and funding for social services, highways, and water supply or wastewater treatment facilities, among other possibilities. Local communities can negotiate such contracts at any time, subject to final approval in local public meetings. Local communities also have the option of waiting for WDNR to provide a final EIS, for example, before entering into a contract with the mining company. In the case of the Crandon project, local communities signed agreements early in the permitting process. Because the process has become so protracted, communities are reconsidering certain individual contracts and the local agreements process in other areas of potential mining activity.
Beyond the physical dimensions of the mine and its supporting infrastructure, there are larger, regional considerations. The boundaries of environmental impact potentially extend far beyond local jurisdictions. For example, because the proposed mining is in the headwaters of the Wolf River basin, any impacts on the river itself could extend far downstream. Other impacts arising from mine site or mine transportation activities could also extend beyond local control. In general, local communities must assume that federal and state laws will protect the larger environment and therefore may not engage broader environmental considerations in contract negotiations with a mining company. Thus, environmental impact of a mining operation becomes the domain of the federal and state governments, and perhaps a host of local, regional, national and even international voices with an array of agendas about mining, the environment, governmental process, and related issues. In addition, mining can be seen as a more than a simply local issue because what happens concerning ventures like the Crandon project will set precedents for other mining activities in the region and elsewhere in the future.
In Wisconsin, one regional voice is that of Native Americans. Native American people in Wisconsin and elsewhere tend to support an environmental and temporal overview that is commonly significantly different from that of the other modern Americans descended from later arrivals. Their people are said to retain long connections over time among themselves and their ancestors and descendants using an oral tradition. The Menominee people affected by proximity to the Crandon project believe they have a responsibility for their descendants for the next 10,000 years. Because of restrictions based on federal treaties, they cannot lease or sell their land and move to a different area with the same ease available to other landowners. In many cases, leasing or selling their land or their water or mineral rights is simply non-negotiable because of their beliefs. As with many other Native Americans throughout North America, the tribes in Wisconsin use territory that they do not own, but by treaty has been guaranteed for hunting, fishing and gathering rights. Presence on both the reservation lands and rights on other lands in the vicinity of the Crandon project engage the nearby tribes in the regional picture of permitting the mining operation.
The nearby Mole Lake Sokagon Chippewa, for example, will not negotiate the quality of their water with the state of Wisconsin or with NMC. Alberts and Grasmick (2000, p. 20) observe that the Sokagon Chippewa successfully resisted a lawsuit by the state of Wisconsin contending that the state, not Tribes, holds authority over submerged lands and water bodies on tribal lands. Whereas Wisconsin is appealing the case to a higher court, NMC made the decision to opt for complying with the more stringent water-quality standards set by the Tribe rather than try to fight the validity of two sets of standards in court. NMC was concerned not only with the cost in time and money for a court fight, but also the even greater cost of an amicable relationship with the Sokagon Chippewa. NMC’s course of action was to strive to comply with any reasonable application of the Sokagon water-quality standards, even though the standards were narrative and not quantitative in nature.
Another regional issue is that of cumulative mining impacts. Local people and mining industry critics fear that resolutions about the Crandon project will pave the way for significant, additional mining in northern Wisconsin. Currently, there are four known mineral deposits with commercial value in the region, including the Crandon, Flambeau, Noranda and Bend orebodies. The Flambeau deposit, relatively small at 1.9 million tons and composed of rich ore, was mined between 1993 and 1997. Reclamation of the Flambeau site beginning with mine closure in June 1997 is almost complete in 2001. Significant permitting activities related to the Bend and Noranda deposits currently (2001) await further progress on permitting the Crandon project. According to the WDNR (1997b), concurrent mining of the Crandon, Bend and Noranda deposits would result in activities no closer than 30 miles apart. Additionally, new discoveries even in 2001 would not result in mining for a minimum of seven to ten years, so there is minor concern by WDNR about a large number of concurrent mining projects having cumulative, regional environmental and socioeconomic impacts. The list of impacts includes: mining becoming the dominant economic activity throughout northern Wisconsin; the total acreage potentially disturbed by mining development; the total natural resources impacts with emphasis on water resources; transportation, tourism and net proceeds tax collection by the state; and precedent for other mines to be permitted in rapid succession.
The socioeconomic concerns most directly related to mining have to do with unpredictable changes in demand and prices for metals. If many mines were operating simultaneously, large numbers of employees – land mining benefits to local communities – would be vulnerable to fluctuations in the minerals economy. Local communities voice concerns about migrants who are lured by mining, then stay in the community and add to the unemployment rate and social burden if the mines shut down. The WDNR states that, in this regard, mining is little different than auto manufacturing, the steel industry, defense contracting, or wood products manufacturing. Industrial stability is not one of the criteria available to the WDNR in regulating mining. For an EIS, each mining project could evaluate potential socioeconomic concerns within its own sphere of influence, but could not be expected to provide a regional socioeconomic overview.
At the outset of the 21st century, virtually no mining operation anywhere on Earth is concealed from scrutiny by an array of governmental and nongovernmental entities (Khanna, 2000). In Wisconsin, critics of the mining industry have engaged global financial and other support by way of the Internet for fighting their legal and political battles at the local and regional levels. The proliferation of almost instantaneous electronic communications, especially via the Internet, has created surprising and powerful connections that come to bear on virtually all activities like the Crandon project, and should continue to influence mining in the foreseeable future. Additionally, mining for metals and many other commodities is clearly a global enterprise. As indicated previously (p. 105, this volume), most of the metals to be mined from the Crandon project by an international corporation are destined for markets outside the United States. The conjunction of global enterprise with surveillance by people engaged in global environmental and natural resources policymaking serves to call into question whether the Crandon project and others like it can ever be considered as being under purely local jurisdiction.
Mining, no matter how well planned, regulated or executed faces intense inspection, comparisons, and accountability around the globe. As stated by Naparalla (2000§), despite records of improved performance, “The industry’s past is replete with negatives, especially as it affects its physical surroundings.” The environmental record of mining (p. 26-39, this volume) is one of past and present insults ranging from minor contaminations to major environmental crimes at locations around the globe. Almost any mining operation, whether in Wisconsin, Papua New Guinea, Peru, or Romania will attract immediate attention when anything goes wrong, and the consequences will be quickly broadcast globally and used as examples of what could go wrong at almost any other mine in any other place. Currently (2001), problems with cyanide contamination of local and regional environments in mining operations elsewhere in the world are being brought to bear on attempts to create new legislation banning the use of cyanide in mining operations in Wisconsin. Mining Environmental Management (2001) provides a modern, international overview of the history of cyanide use, cyanide problems, and cyanide management in mining. The United Nations Environment Programme (2001c), in cooperation with mining companies, is attempting to develop an international cyanide management code (p. 35, this volume).
Nicolet Minerals Company adopted the philosophy that the most effective way to control environmental damage during and following its Crandon project is to prevent it in the first place. NMC, in addition to complying with all local, state and federal laws and regulations assures that its corporate policy and management practices dictate even more stringent controls than are required by law. The company also presents a face of openness and accessibility, using several mechanisms and venues for attending to local concerns and explaining designs and progress. NMC claims to have embarked upon a new social and technical approach to the project, relying upon listening to people and working with them rather than trying to convince them that technology will overcome the adverse impacts of mining. NMC seeks to achieve shared social, economic and environmental goals within the framework of exploiting the Crandon orebody, but clearly faces many obstacles during the next few years in obtaining a permit and beginning mining.
The struggles for and against mining in northern Wisconsin, perhaps more so than in most other regions of the world, illuminate a sociocultural complexity that was either absent from consideration or treated very differently by the mining industry as recently as ten to fifteen years ago. The Crandon situation serves to inform both the industry and its critics that there must be new ways of thinking about their relationships. It brings to light common obstacles to their respective ends, and helps clarify the manner in which they are inextricably bound and changed in ensuring sustainable mineral supplies, environmental quality, and promising socioeconomic futures for all concerned.
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