Minerals are important in our society because they provide raw materials for production and job opportunities to different industries. From working in mines to become research scientists, excavating minerals has created many jobs. Minerals have different uses, for instance, copper is used as a conductor in making jewelry and coins. Gold is in electrical products, jewelry, machines that work in space such as Perseverance currently on Mars, etc. Mineral usefulness has made boosted the economies of countries, making them less reliant on foreign aid. The text below explores four major ways of extracting minerals.
It is the most dangerous type of extracting minerals as they are deep in the earth. This means that in case of an accident, miners can inhale poisonous gases, get injured, or be trapped. The deepest underground mine is the Mponeng Gold Mine, which is an astonishing 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) deep with temperatures that reach 150 Fahrenheit (65 Celsius). Ice has to be pumped into the mines to reduce temperatures so that a person can survive. Underground excavation is used when the mineral, deep underground, is profitable enough to cover the expenses. As this operation is deep below the earth, improvements such as ventilation shafts circulate air to prevent hypoxia.
Minerals that are found close to the earth’s surface are mined using this method. Plants, soil, and underlying bedrock are removed to reach the deposits. This is the cheapest form of excavation as not only are minerals close to the surface, the risk to workers is low. It is usually used when the mineral is inexpensive such as coal. Opencast is a form of surface mining that leaves an ugly landscape once mineral resources have been depleted. Even though reclaiming these areas through afforestation is workable, these areas are usually converted to landfills, destroying the environment.
Alluvial deposits, also known as placer deposits, are insoluble minerals found in water that can be mined at a low cost. For instance, if you find gold deposits, a method known as panning is used to separate gold from the soil. The deposits are scooped up using large buckets, mixed with water, and placed on a rotating disk. As gold is heavier than soil, it will remain at the center while the dirt is pushed away. Panning is ancient but is still in use as it is cheap and simple. Placer mining is bad for the environment as riverbed disturbance causes sedimentation downstream.
This method is applicable only when the mineral to be mined is dissolved by chemicals such as water. The rock containing the mineral must be permeable, meaning liquids can pass through, otherwise the embedded mineral cannot dissolve. After the mineral has dissolved, it is pumped back to the surface for processing, with waste materials being dumped at a nearby trough. It is the most environmentally friendly way of mining because there is a reduction in; risk to the workers, noise, and emissions. Even though this method is low risk, evaluations such as the risk of contaminating nearby freshwater sources are considered before excavation can begin.
Mineral extraction can be a profitable business, but it requires huge capital, patience, and technical knowledge of minerals. Before extraction of minerals can begin, you have to evaluate if the mineral will cover operation costs. You have to consider how long it will take before you can see a return on your investment. Research into the mining rights (license and/or permits), equipment to be used, or environmental legislation must be done before excavation can begin. The type of mineral to be mined will dictate the method to be used, increasing or lowering the cost.
Even though the extraction of minerals has many advantages, it has disadvantages too. Asbestos, currently used for insulating homes in the United States, is known to cause cancer. It has prompted legislation to ban the use of this product. Mineral excavation is a thief industry because we mine resources that take millions of years to form from the earth. When minerals become depleted, we usually leave these areas barren, leading to several problems such as an ugly landscape. Luckily, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 is a federal law in the United States with several programs, including one that reclaims abandoned coal mines.