#41 Environmental Irony

[Reposted because the reason for taking this entry down doesn't exist anymore]

To work on an active mine in this country you have to get annual training from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA, pronounced em-shaw).  If it's your first time or if you let your training lapse, you have to get 24 hours of classroom instruction.  The first 20 hours are given by an approved MSHA instructor.  The remaining four hours are site specific and are given by the mine you will be working on.  Each time you go to a mine you either haven't worked on before or haven't worked on in a calendar year you have to get four hours of site specific training.

The initial MSHA training is mostly videos and stories of people getting killed and why they got killed.  The instructor and students relate stories of tragedy and near tragedy all day long.  There are a few safety videos, some of which may actually apply to you, most of which don't.

The training at the mine is more of the same with a few interesting differences.  After you've been to a few mines, and I've been to three new ones in the past three months, you start to notice a common thread with the training.  They are really satisfied with themselves, the work they are doing, and the way they are treating the environment.

Now, before we go any further, let me discuss my views on open-pit mining.  A lot of people are opposed to open-pit mining because of the massive devastating effect that it has on the landscape and on the surrounding environment.  I completely agree that it is a bad thing when the mine is upstream of populated areas.  The run-off is often poorly managed at best.  However, out here in Nevada we have literally millions of acres of land that absolutely no one ever visits.  No ranchers, no hunters, and often, no wildlife.  I've been in areas where you won't see a single person or animal for weeks.  Out here, where there are no amber waves of grain and where the buffalo wouldn't dare to roam, there is no reason why you shouldn't operate an open-pit mine.  If you disagree come take a look for yourself.  It will take you hours to get to any of the large mines and you will likely get lost along the way. 

Now that that is out of the way, let's talk about the environmental impacts and policies.

All of these mines are proud of three things: their safety record, their environmental policy, and their production numbers.  In public and in front of contractors it is usually in that order, although, I think in the main office the CEO might be a little more concerned with production when he is thinking about shareholders.

Somewhere in Nevada. From Google EarthThe talk about the environmental policy is the one that really gets to me.  They love to show people how good they are to the environment because they clean up spills, recycle, mitigate cultural resources, and are mindful of animals.  Those are all good things and aside from the mile wide hole in the ground and the new mountains created solely from waste rock that now sit on the playas and valley floors, they are doing pretty well.  The question is, why are they doing what they do?  Why the environmental policy?  Do they feel guilty?  Not likely.  They do it because our elected officials told them to.

That's right.  The government that Republican and Tea Party members would like to reduce and/or get rid of entirely is responsible for the meager amount of environmental regulation these mines have to abide by.  With the price of gold continuing to rise, despite the latest hiccup, I think that mining should be more heavily regulated and fines should be steeper.  They can afford it.  And, not only can they afford it, no amount of money or regulation will ever put the land back to it's original condition.

I feel like I got off track a bit.  The point of this post is to discuss the ironic way that the mines talk about their environmental policy.  Yesterday morning I was listening to a guy talk about how good they are to the environment while sitting less that half a mile from fifteen large open pits, most of which are closed down and dormant.  Are they blind? Do they not see that just cleaning up your spills and planting seed on waste rock is not "treating the environment well"?  Maybe it simply comes down to money.  The miners need money and jobs, the company wants to prosper, and the world needs gold.  Still, it's difficult for me to keep my mouth shut during those sermons.  After all, my company and I need money and jobs too.

Five miles north of the previous image. From Google EarthI guess the point of all of this is being proud of something you are told to do and are actually heavily fined if you don't.  It's clear that mines would not have an environmental policy if they didn't have to.  The older mines that we record are a testament to that theory.  Just a few weeks ago I recorded a mine from the 40s that had a cyanide-hardened waste rock platform that we parked on.  The smell was a bit worrying.  The white chalky powder in some of the barrels was a bit suspect too.

Food for thought: the next time you think there is too much government regulation, imagine a world without it.  You probably wouldn't like what you see.

Written in Eureka, NV, "The friendliest town on the loneliest road in America".