A clean mine, is it possible?

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You can operate a mine while respecting the environment

Yann Foucaud

Lecturer, GeoRessources Laboratory – University of Lorraine

In France, despite a mining past whose environmental impact was very negative, it is now possible to operate a mine with respect for people and the environment. Proper management of mine water and process water, during and after operation, eliminates all pollution of rivers and groundwater. In addition, the ore processing plant can be built a few kilometers from the extraction site in order to reduce the environmental and societal impact of the mine. When the latter is underground, the processing of the ore is carried out as much as possible underground, in order to reduce noise and atmospheric pollution but also the footprint of the plant on the surface. Efforts are being made to reduce the volume of mining waste rock, whose surface storage is problematic, by recovering them as much as possible in the form of useful substances, and by reinjecting them into underground mines. The integration of the mine on rail connections also makes it possible to reduce noise pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, inherent in the transport of the extracted substances. When the site is no longer in use, remediation actions make it possible to return it as close as possible to its initial state. Overall, regulations play a key role in ensuring the specific character of a mine: it seems essential that the State enforce strict environmental and social rules with regard to the operator.

Collected by Marie Dancer

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It has never been shown that a mine could be clean

Antoine Gatet

Vice-president of the France Nature Environment Foundation (FNE)

I want to insist on the fact that a mine is not a simple quarry, it is rather to speak of an industrial ore processing site. The rocks that have been taken out of the mine are in fact crushed, before being chemically treated in order to extract the desired ore. Fortunately, the working conditions have improved for the miners, but we cannot speak of progress concerning the extraction. Firstly, because even underground mines have an environmental impact: the galleries disrupt the circulation of water and contribute to polluting it. The processing plant itself is very water-intensive and releases pollutants into waterways. In addition, this transformation produces millions of tons of waste which is left on site, poorly confined, including after the site has been closed – France has hundreds of such waste today. In practice, it has never been demonstrated that a mine can be clean or responsible. If, despite everything, we consider that mines should be exploited, it is up to the State to do so because it is a public resource that must be managed collectively. It is his responsibility to map the available reserves and to set up planning and consultation to decide which sites will be selected. Because it must be said that the latter will be “sacrificed”, insofar as other economic activities (agriculture, tourism, etc.) cannot be practiced for a long time thereafter, due to pollution. And all the more so since the legal framework is currently insufficient: the mining code makes it an activity that can derogate from environmental law and the reform of this code, announced many times, has still not been completely successful. .

Collected by Marie Dancer

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