Benefits and Costs of Environmental Compliance: A Survey

Gulley, David A. ; Macy, Bonn J. ; Vogely, William A.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 12
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1985
INTRODUCTION Some of the most famous and graphic environmental incidents have arisen from mineral extraction, including oil spills, the Reserve Mining asbestos tailings case, Kaiparowitts surface mining and coal combustion, and other environmental causes celebre. The remote location of much of the mining industry to some extent reduces the human health hazards from pollution, but often times the pristine locale in which mining is conducted provides a sharp contrast to the impacting industry. This prompts questions as to what the research literature says about the true costs and benefits of environmental compliance. We survey the state of this knowledge. Where possible, we discuss studies focused on mining and related industries, such as primary metals production. In many cases, how- ever, the studies pertain to the economy as a whole. For present purposes, the mining industry is defined as companies engaged in the production and refinement of minerals, including metals, fuels, and nonmetallics (e.g., phosphate, sand and gravel). There are several stages in mining, with environmental effects occuring at every stage. The exploration stage comprises the period from initial prospecting to the point where the deposit has been located and delineated in sufficient detail to permit development decisions to be made. Geophysical and geochemical surveys, diamond drilling programs, and exploratory stripping and excavation are activities that may be employed during this stage. Some forms of prospecting are relatively benign, al- though even airborne surveys and motor vehicles generate noise pollution. Roads and the passage of vehicles and equipment affect land surfaces and vegetation, and attract heavier backcountry use. Clearings, stream crossings, and borrow pits can lead to increased erosion and sedimentation of streams. Geological survey grids disrupt vegetation and appearance. Moreover, prospecting can involve the excavation and stripping of overburden, resulting in soil and vegetation disruption as well as in- creased sedimentation of streams and lakes. The effects of exploration are often temporary, and frequently less severe than for other activities. Nevertheless, exploration-related impacts vary with the intensity and type of exploration effort, and can be significant. During the development stage of mining, shafts are sunk, pits excavated, buildings erected, and transportation facilities established. Dust, noise, and other socioeconomic and environmental impacts are generated by the relatively large and sudden influx of people, equipment, and activity. Surface disturbance and solid waste are generated by development, and liquid wastes form when mines are dewatered. The extraction phase is associated with a variety of environmental impacts. These impacts may differ for surface and underground mines. In surface mining, surface disturbance is obviously a major consequence. Piles of overburden and waste accumulation mar land surfaces. Wind and water erosion tend to spread the dis-
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