27 Feb 2008

Mining and Polluting

These two stories discuss the old, but increasingly unpopular, practice of using water to get at "more valuable" stuff such as oil and minerals. The bad news is that the profits are there, and most people are uninterested in using less fuel, so the practice will continue.

This story has a link to a report from Environmental Defense that details how the refiners at the Alberta Oil Sands are "licensed to use twice the amount of fresh water that the entire city of Calgary uses in a year, and at least 90% of the fresh water used in the oil sands ends up in ends up in tailing ponds so toxic that propane cannons are used to keep ducks from landing in them."

Too bad for those moose.

Meanwhile in Idaho...
In legislation introduced this week in the state Senate, the Idaho Mining Association that represents the companies also aims to expand the state Department of Environmental Quality's definition of mining areas to clear the way for the companies to pollute groundwater in perpetuity -- provided the pollution stays beneath waste rock piles and processing plants.

Sen. Chuck Coiner, R-Twin Falls, said at this week's hearing he fears the industry's demands could leave sites adjacent to phosphate mines vulnerable to contamination, partly because it's so difficult to determine the flow of groundwater in aquifers.

For instance, in eastern Idaho, selenium pollution from defunct phosphate mines and their waste piles in the late 1990s killed at least four horses and hundreds of sheep after they drank from contaminated water.

"I'm not asking for a license to pollute," Lyman said, adding nothing in his bill absolves companies of responsibility to protect neighboring property. "We don't want to affect farmers who are off-site."

[industry lobbiest]Lyman assured lawmakers his measure won't allow mining companies to pollute surrounding property. Geological conditions beneath the earth effectively filter pollutants before they migrate elsewhere, he said.

"It isn't as though there's some great sea underground," Lyman said. "It's flowing through porous rock" that keeps minerals from moving downstream to adjacent ground, he said.
Apparently, the people of Idaho have not heard of the common law principle that water should be used and returned to nature in the condition it was found, i.e., polluted water should be restored.

But that's nothing compared to Mr. Lying ("porous rock keeps minerals from moving..."?!? -- what is he on? Wait, this about drugs water, right?) -- is he some cartoon character of a bad guy or what?

Bottom Line: Oil and minerals are valuable, but the price of extraction has to be the price of sustainable, clean, green extraction. If you have to destroy the environment to get the stuff -- and make an "adequate" profits -- then you are not paying the full price of extraction. Clean water is worth something -- don't let companies bribe a few politicians to ruin your water supply and natural surroundings.