MINER’s (Not Necessarily) Digging the Dirt
The mining of stone and metal or removal of minerals from the Earth has been done since prehistoric times.
The mining industry doesn’t have the greatest reputation for taking care of the planet. Historically the track record for humans working in or near mines hasn’t been particularly favourable either (although conditions are better in some countries than others).
One could be forgiven for assuming that mining and meaningful implementation of environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles remain worlds apart.
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In this blog, we’re discussing why and how resource extraction is the dirtiest business on the planet (or at least one of them) and how The Miner Network helps to solve this by reducing digging and increasing environmental accountability.
First we need to explore what the current environmental and social issues are in the mining sector. At present in the face of astronomical mining profits, most mining companies don’t meaningfully address social and ecological damages, as these values don’t generally appear in the profit-and-loss columns of business balance sheets.
That’s all about to change.
Secondly, we’ll look at how an emerging mining organisation is creating the mining new normal by fully addressing and embracing these social and environmental values which 100% underlie it.
A joint report dated 23 September, 2020, from the Responsible Mining Foundation and the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment at Columbia University concludes that:
“…as a whole, the mining sector is falling short of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, a common metric related to ESG themes.”
These goals range broadly from creating and maintaining humane living and working conditions to education, equality, sustainability, and climate action.
From Personal Needs to Planetary Respect, From People to Place
Although mining organisations aspire to (and pay lip service to) applying environmental, social, and governance principles, in reality, mining is still a long way off from effecting real and significant ESG-related changes.
There is one quietly-spoken organisation out there, making massive waves, creating an industry-first initiative in the mining sector. One that really does put people and planet before profit, and is still profitable…
What Is Resource Extraction?
Resource extraction refers to the activities involved in removing or withdrawing non-renewable resources or materials from the natural environment that can’t be obtained through agricultural or synthetic processes.
Ultimately this kind of extraction changes that environment, often with devastating results such as the generation of toxic compounds. Once these byproducts have escaped into the wild, their extreme heavy metal toxicity contaminates lifeforms and ecosystems, often with lethal outcomes.
Efforts to minimise this kind of damage can be challenging as traditionally, most value metrics are weighed in economic yields and not in terms of planetary longevity.
There can also be a huge amount of waste material from simply gaining access to the ore underground, before it’s even extracted.
This process of access and extraction constitutes the basis of mining.
What Is the Mining Process?
There are two basic types of excavation involved in the mining process:
i. Surface, and
ii. Underground mining.
Mineable materials fall into two basic categories within these excavation types:
- placer deposits (river beds, beach sands, and other granular matter)
- lode deposits (veins, earth and rock layers, larger rock formations)
i. Surface mining
Surface mining constitutes the most common form of mining in modern times. Techniques include:
- strip mining: removing/stripping surface vegetation, dirt and rocky layers to reach the ‘overburden’ or mineral deposits sought
- open pit mining: removal of rock and/or minerals from the earth in an expanding open hole until mineral resources are exhausted or mining is no longer economically feasible
- mountaintop removal mining: using explosives to remove vertical feet of earth at the summit or summit ridge to access minerals underneath
- landfill mining: excavation and processing of previous landfill waste
- dredging: mineral/ore is removed from river beds
- deep sea mining: seabed mining at depths lower than 200 metres
“We’re only beginning to scratch the surface of what’s down there. The loss of biodiversity due to mining activities will be inevitable and permanent on a human scale, as nodules take millions of years to form…”
~ Matthew Gianni, cofounder of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition
ii. Underground mining
Underground (subsurface) mining is not as common now as surface mining, and involves accessing mineral deposits via vertical shafts and horizontal tunnels, with the aim of maintaining surface bedrock and accessing ore from far deeper below.
Stoping is a large-scale mining method using techniques including:
- room and pillar mining: removing minerals/ore, leaving roof structural support
- longwall mining: a long wide horizontal edge of the ore face is removed
- cut and fill mining: tunnels are filled with waste materials once ore is removed
- block and sublevel caving: where weight of overlying rock formation creates pressure and fractures ore deposits underneath
What Are Some of the Processes of Gold Resource Extraction?
While processing methods have evolved over time since the first recorded smelting of gold around 6000-3000BC in Mesopotamia or Syria, we can still assume, sadly, that most still entail chemical and destructive treatments which poison both the planet and people.
Processing techniques for extracting gold from ore include grinding, concentration, roasting, and pressure oxidation prior to cyanidation.
- comminution: reduction of solid matter to smaller particle sizes through crushing, grinding or milling
- pyrometallurgy: thermal/heat treatment of minerals and metallurgical ores
- hydrometallurgy: the use of water-soluble solutions to obtain metals from ores including various leaching processes. The use of cyanide to extract gold from its ore results in ‘tailings’
- other forms of mineral processing
“The production of one gold ring through this method [heap leaching], can generate 20 tons of waste material.”
Gage B. & G. 2008. American Outrage. USA: Human Rights Watch.
Tailings are the waste materials resulting from the hydrometallurgical separation of gold from its ore.
Tailings dams, where this waste material is often stored, are often dangerously toxic due to:
- unextracted sulphide minerals present
- toxic minerals in the gangue (the worthless rock or vein where valuable metals or minerals occur)
- residual cyanide present from treatment of gold ore via leaching
When these dams burst, there are catastrophic results…
“The Mount Polley tailings pond breach on August 4, 2014, is the worst environmental mining disaster in BC’s history. The disaster shook the public’s confidence in the province’s ability to protect their human rights and the environment from harms caused by the Mount Polley tailings dam failure. In Amnesty International’s view, the disaster raises serious questions about the province`s ability to protect British Columbians’ economic, social, cultural, Indigenous and universal human rights under current mining regulations.”
Worst Mining Disaster, Brazil
“In 2015 a dam containing mining wastes burst, releasing a wave of toxic mud that spread down the Doce River in Brazil and killing 20 people (Garcia et al., 2017). This toxic waste decimated the biological communities of the river leading to a loss of $521 million/year of ecosystem services. The pollution moved down the river and eventually contaminated Atlantic coastal waters. The fines assessed to the mining company did not cover the estimated costs of all losses. Furthermore, experience from the United States indicates these costs will accrue for many decades to come. In January 2019 another mine dam collapsed in Brazil in the state of Minas Gerias, leading to deaths of hundreds of people and massive environmental damage.”
Walter K. Dodds, Matt R. Whiles, in Freshwater Ecology (Third Edition), 2020
Human Health Effects of Cyanide
Cyanide is a fast-acting, potentially deadly chemical – acutely toxic to humans.
The biochemical action of cyanide causes depression of the central nervous system that can result in respiratory arrest and death. At higher lethal concentrations, cyanide poisoning also affects other organs and systems in the body, including the heart.
Environmental Effects of Cyanide
Wildlife: cyanide is toxic to many living organisms at extremely low concentrations
Aquatic Organisms: cyanide exposure is particularly damaging to fish and aquatic invertebrates (reduces swimming performance, inhibits reproduction, delays mortality, creates susceptibility to predation, disrupts respiration, creates osmoregulatory disturbances and alters growth patterns
Birds: cyanide exposure symptoms include breathing issues, eye blinking, salivation, lethargy, mortality
Mammals: cyanide toxicity – symptoms of acute poisoning to mammals include muscle tremors, salivation, lacrimation, defecation, urination, laboured breathing, muscular incoordination, gasping and convulsions
There is little question that potential exposure to cyanide waste products, especially leaks that create water, air and/or soil pollution, has devastating and long-reaching effects on both humans and the natural environment.
Cyanide waste product leaks create water, air and soil pollution, with devastating and long-reaching effects
Further Waste Products & Effects of Mining
In addition to cyanide use, surface mining brings various human health and natural environment issues including:
- cardiovascular diseases resulting from food and water contamination
- massive ecological damage with biodiversity eradication
- large scale physical habitat disruption/vegetation loss with widespread ripple effects
- air pollution (ore dust, toxic gases leading to disease and lung tissue scarring & carbon emissions from diesel-powered heavy machinery)
- noise pollution (explosives and heavy machinery)
- water pollution (increased acidity and heavy metal contamination)
- drainage of underground water reserves/aquifers causes the drying up of natural springs, rivers and destruction of related ecosystems (increased risk of old and unused mines collapsing as a result of lack of water support below)
- soil erosion (continues even decades after mine closure)
- damage to deep sea marine ecosystems
- destruction of undiscovered places
- noise pollution affecting whales and other animals which rely on echolocation
- light pollution affecting animals that rely on bioluminescence
- destruction of biodiversity
- potential dangers of radiation and toxic gas exposure
- dangerous accidents like tunnel cave-ins
- higher personal injury potential
- underground tunnels cause surface collapse especially in older, unused mines
Safety Concerns – Mining Disasters
Despite modern improvements to mining safety practices (which result in mining being substantially safer today than it was in previous decades – at least in certain countries), mining remains a dangerous occupation throughout the world.
Disastrous mining accidents still occur.
Examples of Mining Tragedies
Feb 4 2021: Mining disaster killed 270 people Brumadinho, Brazil
Jan 24 2021: Underground Explosion, China
Sept 27 2020: Mine Disaster Kills at Least 16, China
Nov 23 2009: Mine Explosion Kills More Than 100, China
Mar 19, 2009: Mining Disaster 885 Feet Underground in Ulyanovskaya, Russia
April 5, 2010: No Survivors Found After West Virginia Mine Disaster, USA
In addition to death or permanent disability by crushing and/or toxic gas asphyxiation, other significant health and safety issues remain also regarding:
- mining ventilation and release of toxic gases
- hearing loss
- cave-ins as well as ground and rock falls (33 Chilean miners were trapped deep underground for 69 days in 2010)
- heat-related illnesses
- human rights’ violations
Which Countries Mine Gold? Do They Care for Their People and Places?
All continents except Antarctica have gold mining operations, since its ore is widely distributed throughout the Earth’s crust.
China is currently the largest producer of gold, followed by Russia, then Australia and the United States. Canada, Latin America and Africa all also feature in the top 10 regions mining massive volumes of gold.
Many of these countries are where the biggest compromises for human and planetary health and safety have taken place both recently and historically.
Soaring worldwide demand for the minerals used in electronic devices such as smartphones and laptops has left a legacy of social conflict, human rights violations and environmental devastation across Asia, Latin America and Africa.
An Environmental Justice Atlas based on a global investigation into the world’s mineral mines pinpoints over 600 international companies with more than 1,500 ongoing conflicts identifying human rights violations and environmental devastation including:
- water drainage
- water contamination – groundwater and surface water
- land destruction
- formation of sinkholes
- chemical spills
- additional forest logging to create space for waste storage
- land grabs
- falling water levels
- military force/violence
- government corruption and more…
These disputes take the form of both long-standing legal contestations and/or armed conflicts.
Military force and government-rule-bending are coupled with mining corporations’ financially-driven enterprise. The various parties are seen to act in direct accordance with one another, often to the detriment of local communities and natural habitats.
“Much of the Philippines has now been militarised to defend the companies… We have found that mining divides our people, it kills them, it does not help us. It destroys our values. Mining and militarisation are twins.
“Where there is big mining there is always militarisation, because the government has to ensure that foreigners can invest in our country. People are resisting, are taking up arms against the entry of these mining companies.
“We are killing each other over mining.”
~ Sister Stella Matutina, Benedictine nun
What’s more, indigenous sacred sites and culturally significant lands are being mined and mistreated without apparent regard for the people to whom the land is historically and traditionally home.
“A parliamentary inquiry into the destruction of 46,000-year-old caves has delivered a scathing report criticising the actions of Rio Tinto and calling for the Western Australian government to put a stop to the destruction of heritage until new laws are passed.”
“The companies whose mines have attracted the most accusations of human rights abuses and environmental conflict are some of the largest in the world, mostly listed on the London stock exchange. They include AngloGold Ashanti, Rio Tinto, Barrick Gold, BHP Billiton, Glencore Xstrata and Newmont Mining. Between them they are involved in 75 conflicts in countries ranging from Colombia, Burma and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the US, Zambia and the Philippines, says the database.“
What’s the Deal With Gold Mining and ESG?
Given the information presented previously, it should come as little surprise that gold mining groups are largely sugar-coating (and not much more) apparent efforts to address the Environmental, Social and Governance principles being requested of them:
“A Sept. 23 joint report of the Responsible Mining Foundation and the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment at Columbia University concluded that as a whole, the mining sector is falling short of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, a common metric related to ESG themes. A news release about the report, which examined 38 large-scale global mining companies, said while many large mining companies list the goals in their sustainability reporting, much of the effort is ‘purely cosmetic.'”
It’s not looking great for humanity or the planet in the hands of the mining industry.
Apart from mining corporate green-rhetoric, there currently seem to be only insubstantial claims to ESG-favourable actions. There doesn’t seem to be any organisation planning dramatic changes anytime soon.
“The growth of ESG investing is increasing scrutiny on many companies, and parts of the mining sector bring a complicated history to the topic. During a virtual conference in late-September, gold companies large and small touted their ESG credentials, although a recent report concluded that miners have more work to do when it comes to sustainability.”
That leads us to The Miner Network (TMN).
A Gold Mining Group Promising to Care for the Environment? Seriously?
The Miner Network’s not just telling a green story and ‘trying to do the right thing’ while doing the same old same old.
It’s an organisation actually doing its best to walk the walk and be effective in building bridges from old ways to new. An organisation that aims to inspire and invites its colleagues in industry across the world to do the same.
What Does The Miner Network Do Differently?
Miner deals with only the greenest gold.
The Miner Network pledges what no other gold mine in the world promises.
By way of this pledge, as a Miner Network member, you deal with only the cleanest gold: the greenest gold. We’re talking about gold that’s been specifically processed while maintaining the mining new normal standards of excellence – facilitating financial, environmental and social accountability.
Environmental Accountability: What Does That Even Mean?
Environmental accountability means a (mining) organisation undertakes a meaningful obligation to legitimately minimise the impacts on human and ecological health of its production.
How Does Miner Reduce Digging?
Miner reduces potential gold digging in various ways:
- By offering savvy impact investors a modern crypto-asset hedge, gold lovers can park their wealth in the form of a portable, blockchain-enabled MINER token – redeemable for minutes of the service of mining gold – rather than stockpiling physical gold in a vault, an old practice that serves no one and comes at great cost to humans and our biosphere.
- Gold production on demand, in sufficient amounts to fulfil requests for redemptions of MINER tokens. When industry (including manufacturing and jewellery) or individual members require physical 24 karat gold delivery, they redeem their MINER tokens through The Miner Network (a simple process), and responsible mining takes place in our approved, managed, in-network gold mines.
- The Miner Network (Miner) uses advanced exploration technology to pinpoint the gold before digging and then only digs once (instead of digging around until gold is found, which is unfortunately an all-too-common practice at great expense to our ecosystem).
- Miner prefers to mine pre-existing mine sites rather than opening new ones.
- And Miner mines the waste piles from old mines, thereby extracting gold and cleaning up the toxicity of previous mining operations.
MINER is an ERC-20 token that represents one averaged minute of productivity from our approved, managed, in-network gold mines. These mines have been successfully producing gold for years, enabling accurate and consistent productivity metrics and creating a solid baseline for value.
This effectively means that the traditional gold hedge that the wealthy and finance sectors covet is now readily accessible in a crypto-asset format, while leaving this precious metal safely and securely stored in the ground (and the ground unscathed).
Miner Gives Us a Whole New Angle on Gold Digging for All Levels of Investors
Gold digging on demand!
No need for secure above-ground storage, insurance or dealing with transportation/portability issues.
Environmental, social and governance principles are becoming increasingly relevant and important to all levels of investors – from precious metals hedge fund managers to impact investing fund managers to Gen Y millennials set to inherit masses of wealth from their baby boomer family members (and who were, just quietly, born social-media-ready and super-adept at influencing their like minded green-driven peers).
“Millennials (23 – 40 year olds) [are] the highest-spending generation in 2020 — with a projected $1.4 trillion tab… Millennials stand to inherit over $68 trillion from Baby Boomer parents by the year 2030, setting them up to potentially be the most wealthy generation in U.S. history.” Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash
Gold Mining Companies Pressured to ‘Clean Up Their Act’
Gold mining companies are increasingly going to be pressured to ‘clean up their act’ and present options which are meaningful and impactful in terms of human and planetary health and well-being.
Apart from providing us with healthy communities on a thriving planet, mining companies like The Miner Network are able to distinguish themselves and therefore appeal to a far broader green-inspired, finance-focussed audience.
Resource extraction is one of the dirtiest businesses on the planet. MINER helps to solve this by reducing digging and increasing environmental accountability.
MINER Launch Phase 1 (soft launch) is completely sold out.
Main launch is happening soon.
JOIN our mailing list to stay informed of the upcoming launch of MINER token.
~ Abheeti Kathryn Pass