Mining Alaska Part V: Mining and the environment – by Mallory Peebles ( – November 6, 2015)

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It took thousands of years for minerals to form but over just one century the process of mining changed drastically.

Today, machines weighing more than 2,000 tons quickly move dirt, miners use remote operated trucks and chemicals separate the minerals from their ores. The advancements are as huge as the mines themselves.

Critics of mines say that’s not a good thing. Dave Chambers, with the Center for Science in Public Participation, says large open pit mines create a greater risk for environmental damage.

Each of Alaska’s six large-scale mining operations have facilities where they store tailings or waste rock. According to Chambers, these storage sites can leach or even spill harmful chemicals into the environment

Mining companies say storage of these byproducts has strict guidelines set by the federal government, and constant oversight ensures compliance.

Usibelli mine holds more than 60 permits for it’s ongoing coal mining operation. Areas that have already been mined are being reclaimed. At Poker Flats, the open pit site has been filled in with waste rock and vegetation has been planted.

“It’s really difficult to point out an environmental plus when it comes to mining. On the other hand there’s a huge economic plus associated with mining,” says Chambers.

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