Mine-d Your Manners
Wyoming’s nature and wildlife is, arguably, the most attractive part of the state. Wyoming has the smallest population, and is one of the most sparsely populated states. The mere 6 people per square mile leaves plenty of room for Wyoming’s mountain scenery, and all the creatures that come with it. Wyoming has a beautiful environment, but it faces many environmental concerns. The most prominent problem is the coal and mining industry. Wyoming is home to many natural resources, most of which are controlled by big businesses that do not have the good of the state at heart. As a result, this industry is allowed to devastate many communities.
40% of the nation’s coal comes from the Powder River Basin, which is spread across Wyoming and Montana. In a speech given for the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal Campaign,” LJ Turner, a Wyoming rancher, expressed his concerns about the coal industry and it’s impact on him, his family, and his ranch. “We’ve been ranching on government leases since the 1930s, and mining has taken 6,000 acres from us so far,” he states in his speech. Turner has 10,000 deeded acres that cannot be taken away, but the pollution of the air and water have begun to take their toll on these lands by depleting the surface, and deep aquifers. This is destroying the creeks and wells in the area. The Powder River Basin region was once home to numerous native tribes and family ranches, but is now cluttered with coal mines, power lines, rail lines, and oil and gas lines.
You can see certain types of pollution, like smokestacks and oil spills. But, you can’t easily see the pollution seeping from underground mines. Land pollution is very subtle and hard for the average person to recognize, but it is a huge problem in our nation, especially in Wyoming. As discussed by LJ Turner, the mines are ruining the underground aquifers. Irresponsible mining companies leave scars on the landscape. Companies that practice surface mining cause the most damage. Surface mining requires the removal of topsoil to obtain the resources underneath. Though this topsoil removal is not the worst type of pollution on its own, it destroys the productivity of the land by making the soil dry and unusable. However, topsoil removal doesn’t usually stand on its alone, but is paired with adding harmful chemicals to the land underneath. Because most metals occur in rocky mixtures called ores, the valuable elements must be removed through chemical or electrical processes. This leaves behind waste that renders the land barren and useless.
Though mining damages the environment now, there is hope for the industry. This industry can become more sustainable in our great state by reducing the overall footprint of the mining areas, minimizing the amount of waste produced and stored, maintaining biodiversity by transplanting or culturing any endangered plants found on site, and planning mines around existing infrastructure where possible. If these steps are taken by mines soon, then a lot of long-term environmental damage could be avoided.