Mining is one of Canada’s primary industries, it involves extraction, refinery, and the processing of valuable minerals such as gold, copper, iron, nickel, and zinc. All of the provinces except Prince Edward Island has had significant mining activities, but the industry is concentrated in provinces like Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Although mining is key to Canada’s economy, the country had been criticized for its methods of extraction of the minerals since it has negative impacts on the environment.
This report will first describe how the mineral industry is important to Canada’s economy, secondly, it will also fully describe one method that the industry employs to extract the minerals, and how it affects the natural environment, and finally, this report will highlight some solutions to the negative impacts of the environment and ensure long-term sustainability.Importance of the Mineral Industry to CanadaThe mineral industry helps Canada’s economy to a great extent. Canada is one of the leading mining countries and ranks third worldwide for its amount of mineral exports, in fact, in 2015, 19% of the total value of Canadian goods exported are minerals. Since Canada produces more minerals than they use, the country exports 80% of its mineral production to other countries. The mineral industry in Canada is also a major driving force for Canada’s development.
Because of mining alone, many towns had sprung up near mining sites e.g., Greater Sudbury, Ontario, and Murdochville, Quebec. The mining industry is a crucial component of Canada’s economy and Canada’s development.Method of Extracting Minerals: Open-Pit MiningOne of the methods that the mineral industry employs to extract the natural resource is open-pit mining.
This method is used to extract large quantities of copper (and sometimes other The Mineral Industry and Sustainability 3minerals) located near the surface. Open-pit mines often have a round and circular shape. The mines are dug into horizontal layers called benches.
Depending on the type of mineral, or equipment being used, the thickness of a bench can be around 12-15 metres tall. There are a series of ramps along the stepped sides of the open-pit mine so people can ascend and descend. As the pits get deepened, more and more waste rock would have to be mined to uncover more valuable minerals. Eventually, there comes a point where the cost of mining the ore will be higher than the worth of the ore exposed. The mining will then cease.After the Mining Ceases After the decision was made to cease mining, the mine area will now go into land rehabilitation.
Land rehabilitation is the process of returning the land somewhat back to its original state. The process aims to prevent negative effects the mine would have on the environment e.g., erosion, sinkholes, etc. To return the mine back to its original state somewhat, The Mineral Industry and Sustainability 4all the waste rock that was mined previously would have to be put back into the pit.
The pit is then covered with topsoil on the surface. After that, vegetation is planted on the topsoil to help stabilize the land. Fences are built around the mine to prevent wildlife and/or livestock from entering the site since they would deprive the land of its vegetation e.g.
, cows eating grass. Finally, the land that was originally an open-pit mine will fill up with groundwater. In arid areas, the mines sometimes don’t fill up since groundwater levels there are very low. Instead, people reuse the land and convert it into recreational parks or residential/mixed communities.
Negative Effects Open-Pit Mining Has on the Environment Many people criticize the method of open-pit mining because it has many negative effects on the environment. Some examples are that the method causes the release of harmful substances into the environment and biodiversity loss.Release of Harmful Substances onto the Environment.
Pollution is one of the major negative impacts of open-pit mining. Crushing rocks are one process to release harmful substances into the environment. Open-pit mining can expose rock that was unexposed for many geological eras, and when crushed, the rocks release radioactive elements, and it can be very harmful to the environment if the harmful elements were not contained properly. Since open-pit mining would most likely take place under the water table, water must be constantly pumped out to avoid flooding. Once the mining ceases, the pit mine would be filled up with water. The water will absorb the harmful substances from the rocks and therefore, the water would be a polluted and lifeless lake.
The lake can further emit more The Mineral Industry and Sustainability 5harmful substances into the air, which would harm the environment even more. This example I mentioned is only one of the ways of how open-pit mining can release harmful substances, there are many more.Biodiversity Loss An open-pit mine takes up a very large area. People also need to build mine sites and factories to help extract all the minerals and ore. Deforestation and habitat destruction would need to be done for the mine to get any bigger, and sadly, most mining companies would be willing to do that. Habitat loss has a huge effect on biodiversity and may heighten the risk of extinction. The pollution released from mining activities can also cause biodiversity loss.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “at Whitewood Creek near Deadwood, South Dakota, more than 100 million tons of gold-mine tailings (residue) were discharged into the creek from 1876 until 1977.” Runoff from mines can contaminate local water supplies. This contamination can cause the death of wildlife and genetic mutations in offspring.
This “Whitewood Creek” case study is one of the many examples that affected wildlife, especially the marine species.How Can We Lessen the Impact of the Mineral Industry to Ensure Long-Term Sustainability?To make the environment more sustainable from mining, it has to be made sure that the development won’t be compromised for future generations. Pollution from mining activities are The Mineral Industry and Sustainability 6unavoidable, so what the miners try to do is to leave the mine sites in a state where the ecosystems can take over or be used by future generations i.e., land rehabilitation. Another way of trying to help make mining have fewer impacts on the environment is by developing and integrating practices such as reducing pollution, waste, land disturbance, and reducing water and energy consumption. Some examples are using recycling-water practices, using solar power and wind turbines to extract the minerals, and reducing waste.WaterThere are many water practices used to mine minerals.
It is often a downside because of a large amount of water being used, especially in arid climates. However, there have been solutions to lessen the amount of water being used, i.e., recycling water practices.
The solution had been very beneficial to the environment, in fact, according to miningfacts.org “In Canada, mining has one of the highest water recycling rates among the industrial sectors, and between 1996 and 2005 the country reduced its total water intake by 33%.” Solar Power and Wind TurbinesThere are practices of using fossil fuels (e.g. diesel fuel) to extract minerals. To reduce the use of fossil fuels and harmful emissions into the atmosphere, there has been solar power and wind turbines in place to extract the minerals instead. A good example of this happening is in the new mining site that opened in Australia.
The site uses the electricity generated from a solar plant called the Weipa Solar Plant.This encourages the use of renewable resources and ensures Sustainability.The Mineral Industry and Sustainability 7Reducing WasteOpen-pit mining can produce a large amount of waste since a large area would have to be mined. The waste includes solid waste, mine water, and air particles. These substances can pollute and contaminate the land. There are different mining techniques (like biomining) to reduce the amount of area needed to be mined.
There are also ways to turn the waste into raw materials e.g., you can use the raw materials for building.
There are also methods to recycle water so it can reduce the amount of mine water. ConclusionThe mineral industry is very important to Canada’s economy, and if we can lessen the impacts of the industry by using the methods that can lessen the impact on the natural environment and also ensure the long-term sustainability of the resource, we will be making life easier for future generations and also be benefiting Canada as a whole.