By Faranak Bakhtiari

Mining must not come at cost of environmental degradation

November 9, 2020 - 18:41

TEHRAN – Mining is among the most destructive activities in the environment. Although there are some laws in place that are intended to minimize the damage, they are not enough to prevent the irredeemable footprint of mining on nature, especially in cases where the regulations are difficult to enforce.

Iran is a country with diverse capabilities, natural resources, and different climates, which due to special geological conditions and rich Hydrocarbon reserves along with different types of mines have a special advantage for investment among the countries in the region, so that even some experts in the world consider Iran as a mining country rather than oil-rich, so the role of development and protection programs in order to properly exploit these resources is very important.

According to mineral exploration in the country, Iran has seven percent of the world's mining reserves, which can be a source of employment and high income, but in return, the damage caused to nature should be the main obsession, because, in addition to destroying vegetation, it causes migration or extinction of some animal species.

Therefore, mining projects must be accompanied by environmental assessments, which means that in the extraction of mineral products, environmental standards must be considered, and accordingly, each miner must receive an environmental assessment report from the DOE before an operation.

Some consider environmental protection to be against development, while this is not the case at all. The DOE, as the custodian of nature protection in Iran, believes that development should not be hindered, but this development should not come at the cost of destroying the environment, therefore all projects should be environmentally assessed before implementation, including mining activities.

Mining is an inherently destructive industry, and the mining effects of even a single operation can have a severe impact on the environment and the wildlife that lives nearby.

In 2011, the parliament passed a law according to which mining in the rest of the country, except for protected areas, was exempted from environmental assessment, now the Department of Environment (DOE) is seeking help from the Soil Protection Law to prevent mining damages.

Does soil protection law reduce destructive effects of mining?

Masoud Tajrishi, deputy head of the DOE for human environment, told IRNA on Monday that “Contrary to the perception of some who claim that the environment is an obstacle to development, we believe that sustainable development should take place, not to sacrifice nature for development.

Criticizing the law on exemptions of the environmental assessment for mines outside the protected areas, he noted that the DOE is following the issue legally and is trying to use the soil protection law to prevent mining damages.

The soil conservation law was ratified by Guardian Council in June 2019, which has been passed by the Majlis (Iranian Parliament) earlier in February.

The bill has been approved after 14 years of effort put in by the Department of Environment, which is the responsible body to deal with business units polluting the soil or even shut down industries contributing to soil contamination. Moreover, the owners of mining, industrial, and manufacturing units active in the field of trade are obliged to comply with the law.

As per the law, any trade or export of soil is prohibited, and only the excretion of minerals or exportation of low amounts of soil for research purposes is excluded after meeting the legal process.

According to Article 24 of the mining law, an exploitation license is issued for mining activities, after which the person is allowed to operate in the mining area without any restrictions. Unfortunately, restrictions are imposed only in protected areas, Tajrishi noted.
“We are trying to limit these activities by using some articles of the soil conservation law, now it is waiting for the response of the DOE’s legal department,” he further highlighted.

Of course, one of the shortcomings in this direction is that the destructions are not documented, while all the destructions and their economic losses must be documented in order to make the best decisions, he concluded.

How environment and wildlife suffer from mining activities?

Mining can lead to the destruction of habitats in surrounding areas. The process begins with deforestation. The land above the mine must be cleared of all obstructions to allow the miners to go to work. Sadly, most mining companies are quite willing to destroy an entire forest to get access to mineral wealth, according to the pegasusfoundation website.

Deforestation has several effects. Birds, animals, and creatures that depend on trees and plants for food or shelter lose their homes or starve to death. Any remaining survivors are forced to relocate and find a new dwelling.

Some mining methods cause further destruction, such as the use of explosions to destroy mountain tops. Toxic chemicals and minerals could go to streams, rivers, and other bodies of water which can create harmful effects on marine species.

Mining can leak pollutants into the environment that may lead to water contamination.

It causes the water table to shrink. Water often seeps into areas that contain coal and other valuable products, and that water needs to be pumped out of the mine to allow the miners to work. Aside from pollution, the process would also cause water loss in the ground.

Many mines produce methane as a waste product. Methane is a relatively potent greenhouse gas; even a small amount of it can gradually worsen climate change. Coal mines are responsible for approximately six percent of the methane that is released due to human activities.

Will abandoned mines end the problem?

All mines are temporary structures. They can remain active for many years, but they will eventually run out of minerals and cease operations. This does not automatically mean that the environment and wildlife will no longer suffer.

Responsible owners would backfill the underground mine. However, not all mine operators would resort to this option because the process can be very expensive.

Failure to backfill the mine can lead to a problem called subsidence, which occurs when abandoned mines collapse. This will undo any efforts to re-establish a healthy ecosystem in the area, and often render it useless for many years to come. The problem only increases if contaminants were left on the site, since removing them after a collapse is exceedingly difficult. Ensuring that every abandoned mine is duly filled in and wastes are eliminated will help nature to recover.

How to minimize dire consequences of mining?

Mining is not going to stop, but it is possible to lessen their negative impact on the environment and wildlife. While it can turn to environmentally-friendly mining. For example, shutting down unregulated and illegal mines, enforcing accurate reporting of dumped toxic wastes, backfilling mine sites and proper waste clean-up, encouraging and investing in the development of sustainable mining technology, and improving mining legislation and regulations.

Responsible mining will not only save the environment and wildlife, but it can also ensure the safety of the people working in the mine and living in nearby areas.

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