Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Random Open-Pit Mining Learnin'

Over at today, on the comments board of this article: The Trouble with the New Cap & Trade Bill, a chronic imbicile/quasi-troll, Chad (to whom my economics 101 lesson was directed the other day), posited a ridiculous claim that strip-mines were destroying all the boreal forests in the US and how it was an unmitigated disaster, and blah blah blah... Right.

Thus he was duly challenged by another poster, RC Dean about the scope of the problem, who demanded Chad answer the following:
What boreal forest is being defaced? What, for that matter, is the total footprint of all open-face coal mines in the US? Betcha its not thousands of square miles.
Chad's response, true to form, was to go off on a tangent about shale oil mining in Canada. Now, the fact that his reading comprehension was so low he actually copy & pasted the above statement and proceeded to talk about oil strip-mining in Canada instead of coal mining in the United states not-withstanding, here was the crucial part of his response:
"With an area of 54000 sq miles, and 20% of that with shallow deposits best collected by open pit mining, thousands of square miles of devasation result."

Incidentally... I got curious, so I decided to take up RC's challenge.

Here are some of my findings:

1. The McMurray Formation, within the Canadian Athabasca Oil-Sands region you were referring to is where the main strip mines are. From what I can gather, the total area being mined seems to be 32 square miles. It's possible that I've only found data on one company, but since there are only 4 mines operating in that part of Canada, I'm going to bet that if I'm wrong about 32 square miles as the total, then the real total cannot possibly be over 120 square miles being strip mined.

And... To RC's real question:

2.Wiki tells me that the United States has a whopping grand total of FIVE open-pit mines...

They are:
Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana - 320 acres
Hull-Rust-Mahoning Mine near Hibbing, Minnesota - 4,480 acres
Bingham Canyon Mine near Salt Lake City - 1,900 acres
Lavender Pit near Bisbee, Arizona - 300 acres
El Chino Mine near Silver City, New Mexico - weighing in at a whopping 9,000 acres! (El Chino is apparently one of the largest in the world, and very close to shutting down permanently it turns out.)

All combined, the total surface area being covered by these mines is at most... WAIT FOR IT...


Notably, this means that it would take 40 times that amount of area being strip-mined in the United States to break 1000 square miles, so I think I can afford a rather wide margin of error...

You'll note that If you want to add Mountain-Top Removal mining for Coal (a rather uncommon method for mining coal - and one which is declining), you might beef that number up to somewhere above 1000 sq. miles... However, you certainly do not get "thousands!" of square miles of "devastation". You also get companies which are legally required to replace top-soil, after they have done the mining and replant deforested areas.

The thing is, we can be sure that strip mining is not a pleasant activity and there are a lot of environmental problems associated with it (one of the above copper mines is now a toxic copper-sediment lake... Crazy...), but the surface area of the United States, according to the CIA world fact book, is 3,794,083 square miles.

Nearly 4 Million Sq. Miles.... 25 Sq. Miles... Thus, the area being strip-mined for minerals is only 0.000066% of the United States. And if you include the MTR Coal-mining? 0.00053%...

It's sort of a recurring theme on my blog, but... get some damn PERSPECTIVE!!

What we learn from this (aside from the fact that at least for me, I've been propagandized about this issue since I was in kindergarten), is that our "friend" Chad is consistently full of shit... Ugh.

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