I am a retired mining engineer (B.S.; M.S.; P.E.) living on a small farm in Rockingham County Virginia.
I got out of the mining industry in 1985 for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the environmental damage mining causes. I have worked in underground copper (massive sulfide), limestone, and coal mines. All had undesirable and harmful environmental consequences. Mining is essentially the reaping of a depletable resource. Once that resource has been reaped, mining ceases, leaving behind many issues resulting from the mining.
Mining can be done in a more environmentally friendly manner, however. Unfortunately, despite assurances to the contrary, this almost never happens. Why? Because it is far more profitable for mining companies to externalize environmental and social justice costs. Externalized mining costs include things like black lung, silicosis, water pollution, air pollution, topsoil degradation and loss, etc. These unfunded liabilities are paid for by future generations, especially those living in the vicinity of the mining operations, by people whose water supply has been compromised and whose health has been impacted.
I am opposed to the proposed gold mine in Buckingham County, Virginia. In a democracy, any type of mining should not take place if most people are against it. It should be a simple task to assess whether the majority of people in Buckingham County is for or against such a mine.
All mines negatively impact both water and air quality. Water, air, and topsoil are our most valuable resources and are sustainable provided they are properly cared for. Mining, however, places stressors on our most valuable resources making them less productive not only during the mining operation, but typically for generations thereafter. Gold mining is especially harmful to the environment because huge tonnages must be mined and crushed to flour-like consistency to recover the gold. It’s not unusual for such an operation to mine more than 100 tons of ore to yield one ounce of gold. What happens to the other 99.99% of the material that was mined?
It is deposited in huge piles euphemistically called “tailings storage facilities,” or TSFs for short. Waste of mine dumps (WMDs) would be a more accurate description. WMDs are “engineered” but how do you design and maintain a structure that is supposed to last indefinitely? The answer is, “you can’t.” For such a structure to last indefinitely would require perpetual maintenance, which is never provided. Perpetual maintenance costs are just one of the externalized costs that mines employ. Even with the best of maintenance, the WMD will slowly erode, grain by grain. Unfortunately, WMDs catastrophically fail all to often, as demonstrated by the Mt. Polley disaster and the compendium of tailings disasters.
Mining never improves water, air or topsoil quality. Mines and other businesses that discharge waste water into our environment are allowed to discharge “allowable concentrations” of chemicals and toxins. Allowable concentrations typically exceed those that are naturally occurring. Allowable concentrations may include chemicals and toxins that were not in naturally occurring water. This is akin to someone cutting off a few of your fingers or toes because someone else has determined that you don’t need all of them. And, besides, they can profit from your loss!
Mining is not compatible with the rural lifestyle of Buckingham County or with the First Nations people in Alaska and Canada. It would degrade the environment and harm sustainable resources. Mineral exploration a prelude to mining, can include activities like core drilling, other exploratory drilling test pits, exploratory shafts and tunnels, geochemical analyses and geophysical methods. To allow any of these exploration methods to take place while not wanting the actual mining to take place makes no sense, perhaps with the exception of a national emergency. A corporation wishing to make a profit is not a national emergency!
I am opposed to gold mining operations, like the Pebble Mine in Alaska and the proposed mine in Buckingham County, Virginia. I support the people of Buckingham County whose lives would be negatively impacted by such mining operations.
George M. Neall III
Retired
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