Energy vs Conservation Essay

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Strip Mining Project

Strip mining has long attracted the attention that "fracking" is now due to the proven or at least theoretical environmental impacts and issues that can or definitely arise when the practice is engaged in. Not unlike similar industries like timber, anything that destroys or alters wetlands/marshes, anything that leads to increase erosion and so forth is hotly contested and debated. Even basic things like irrigation of crops can raise a proverbial stink if the water is denied to people or states that happen to be downstream and they feel they need/deserve it so as to provide drinking water, their own crop irrigation or other environmental concerns. While strip mining, especially that which relates to energy like lignite and lithium, is here to stay and largely cannot be stopped, the real and tangible impacts it can and does have need to be taken seriously before the lignite-harvesting project mentioned in this report is allowed to move forward. There are three basic options as it relates to what is done vis-a-vis the strip mining proposal. The first option is to allow it, the second option is to deny it in favor of something else and the third is to not allow anything to be done and leave the area as it is. In the end, allowing the project but with significant strings and conditions attached would seem to be the best way to go.

Chapter II - Problem Structure

Per the parameters given for this assignment, the author of this report is to act as if that the author is the member of a multi-disciplinary federal commission that has the responsibility of making decisions as to whether one or several mining companies can engage in certain strip mining and similar projects. The reason for the lack of a rubber stamp on such projects, even those that are financially feasible or even lucrative based on what stands to be harvested, is the specter of unforeseen or even foreseen consequences. In the case of strip mining, one has to take into account the possibility or eventuality of increased soil erosion, impacts to the water tables in the area, impact to wetlands and/or marshes that happen to be nearby and so forth.

In the case of this specific project, several veins of lignite have been identified and the mining companies want to retrieve it from the ground for sale and trade. Lignite is actually a variant of coal and coal, of course, is one of the (if not the most) prevalent sources of electricity in the United States, Canada and around much of the rest of the world. Also commonly referred to as "brown coal," it is actually one of the cruder forms of coal and has a relatively poor heat level behind it. Even so, it is extensively mined and retrieved around the world when found including in North America, Australia, Southeast Asia, and many corners of Europe. It is typically transported shorter distances and used in power-producing stations that are relatively close to the point of retrieval.

The lignite in the area in question existed in four major seams and each seam is several meters thick. These seams and layers are intermixed with other stones such as siltstones, sandstones and so forth so the lignite would have to be sorted out from the other stones in the area. That being said, the siltstones and sandstones could absolutely be harvested, collected, sold and marketed for its own unique uses and purposes so little to none of the ground excavated would go to waste. Siltstone is a sedimentary rock that is, as one could guess, mostly made of silt particles. It can be used in sculptures, buildings and can be used in whole or in part for just about any similar endeavor. Sandstone is similar in that it can be used for carvings but also can be used to polish metals, in the construction of buildings, for countertops in kitchens and other similar areas and so forth. Quartz, which is something that is very prevalent in sandstone, is heavily used for high-end kitchen countertops and other fixtures. The point to be made here is that the lignite coal is not the only thing worth retrieving and the other materials, as well as the coal itself, will render heavy use in the marketplace for energy and other industries' products.

Already noted is that the author of this report is to stand in as a Federal Commission member that must weigh the pros and cons of green-lighting the project. There are a couple of significant environmental issues that are in play but the industrial and job-based benefits of allowing the project to go forward are also something that must be considered, especially if the environmental effects are simply theoretical and may or may not happen. One potential issue is water management resources and an overall concern on a loss of water quality. To be sure, lignite that is compressed and affixed in place is of little threat to the water quality because it is localized and non-moving, not unlike asbestos in an old house. However, disturbing the ground and changing the elevation/composition of the soil in the area will almost certainly cause effects to the water table and/or where water does/does not flow.

Another concern that is quite similar to the water allocation and status is the destruction of what would be quite good agricultural land. Once the strip mining is done, the area could no longer be used for farming because so many layers of earth would be scraped off the planet. Beyond that, nearby farming land could be impacted in the form of the aforementioned water loss, both in terms of quality and quantity, because of the strip mining. On top of that, both the land and the included water table would be affected adversely by any pollution and/or messes made by the mining company including runoff of toxic chemicals and other problematic substances as well as the overall disturbing and roiling of what was prior firmly packed into place and ostensibly that way for much of the last years and decades.

However, there are some upsides to doing the strip mining. First, it would create 250 jobs that are fairly consistent in nature, at least for a time, for people in the area. Second, the land that is strip-mined could eventually be the subject of reclamation and the area could be back-filled with soil and actually put into a better agricultural state than it was before. Proponents of the plan hold that while the aforementioned pollution of the mine, mainly in the form of acid runoff, would be minimal to none so long as best practices are followed and they surely would be given the stakes involved. Beyond that, they state that groundwater would not be harmed and that the eventual reclamation would also make the water table and water composition better because the lignite will be gone. The proponents also assert that there are other best practices related to water conservation and upholding in dry areas and that following those concurrently with allowing the strip mining and the eventual reclamation after the area is cleared out would actually help the area in the long run more than just leaving things as they are and doing nothing.

Chapter III - Alternative Solutions & Analysis Thereof

As stated in the summary section, there are a couple of options. The first is to allow the mining company to go in and do their mining of the lignite with little to no restrictions or any conditions as to what must be done for and to the land after that and/or the precautions that they must take while they mine the coal and the surrounding siltstone and sandstone. The second option is to allow the mining to occur but with the conditions that no pollution be allowed to occur, that the water structure/table in the area be preserved and that the land be restored to a usable state for agriculture once all the earth is disturbed and emptied out. The third option is to ban the project and allow agriculture to proceed in the area since leaving the land empty and without use is not a good outcome.

Allowing the mining company to go in with no conditions or strings attached would be a bad idea as they may or may not do the right thing. Chances are, they will do what they need to do to remain out of a legal pickle with the authorities in terms of pollution and so forth but there is little to no chance that they would restore the land to a usable state or agriculture or abide by best practices for retaining or restoring water management capabilities in the area unless it is cheap and easy to do so, which it probably would not be. In all likelihood, they would keep a clean-running project as much as is cheaply and reasonably possible and then they would just leave…[continue]

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