Threatened Natural Areas
The mining industry has a long and dismal record of threatening natural areas, including those that are officially protected. Nearly three-quarters of active mines and exploration sites overlap with regions that have been defined as of high conservation value. Mining is a major threat to biodiversity and to "frontier forest" (large tracts of relatively undisturbed forest).
The Indonesian province of West Papua, which is the western half of the island of New Guinea, is home to Lorentz National Park, the largest protected area in Southeast Asia. This 2.5 million-hectare expanse -- about the size of Vermont -- was declared a National Park in 1997 and a World Heritage site in 1999. But as early as 1973, Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold, Inc., had begun chasing veins of gold through nearby formations. This operation eventually led to the discovery of the world's richest lode of gold and copper, lying close to the park boundary. The resulting open-pit mine, Grasberg, operated by its subsidiary PT Freeport Indonesia, has already ruined its immediate environment. It dumps 110,000 tons of toxic mine tailings a day into the Ajikwa river, and by the time it closes in 30 years, it will have excavated a 230 square-kilometer hole in the forest that will be visible from outer space.
A student in Papua New Guinea calls for marine preservation. Credit: Martin Wurt/Oxfam CAA
The world's oldest national park, Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park (established 1872), was also threatened by mining when Crown Butte Mining Resources Ltd. decided to site a gold, silver, and copper mine 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from the park's boundary in 1990. Fortunately for Yellowstone's grizzly bears, wolves, elk, and bison, the U.S. government agreed to a $65 million buy-out of the company's claims in order to the stop the project from moving forward.
Bison at Yellowstone National Park.
Credit: Payal Sampat/Earthworks
Advanced mining technologies are increasing pressure for governments to allow mining in areas that until recently would not have been profitable. This is putting more and more protected areas at risk. Yellowstone was spared, but a quarter of World Heritage Sites listed for natural value are at risk from past, planned, or current mining or oil and gas drilling.
For more examples of threats to natural areas, read about the Chiquitano forest in Bolivia, and Esquel, Argentina.
For more information:
Mining the Parks-- from Dirty Metals: Mining, Communities, and the Environment (271KB)