Extractive Industries

Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

The Environmental Impacts of Mining

MiningMining is inherently destructive to the environment, whether it is small-scale artisanal mining or large-scale mining by multinational corporations. It always requires landscape modification, vegetation removal, consumption of large amounts of water and energy, and use of toxic chemicals. Furthermore, huge mines create several types of air pollution. They use massive amounts of energy (as much as 10% of international energy demand), which creates greenhouse gas emissions and/or destruction to river ecosystems through huge dams, as is the case in the DRC. This energy used in the mines could potentially go to power households who lack access to energy in the DRC. Trucks, mining equipment, and sulfuric acid plants also emit pollution that leads to acid rain near mine sites. Dust and particulate pollution from mining operations presents a threat to respiratory health of local residents.

Mining results in watershed pollution and water shortages without capacity for proper environmental safeguards. Industrial mining causes a slew of problems unique to its scale. It absolutely wipes out vegetation instead of selectively removing it, which obviously destroys ecosystems and causes massive sedimentation in nearby rivers. Even if its water is recycled, the water consumption of industrial mining depletes groundwater and damages river ecosystems and downstream forests. In the phenomenon known as acid mine drainage, sulfur in huge piles of waste rock and mine tailings is dissolved in water through exposure to the air to become sulfuric acid that makes groundwater and aquatic ecosystems toxic to humans as well as plants and wildlife. Even if stringent precautions are taken to prevent tailings spills, the risk of such events destroying rivers and hurting local residents remains, especially in a place like the DRC that experiences extreme rainfall events.

Some of the companies have made efforts to assess their environmental impacts. These assessments have shown that the scale of multinational corporation projects create different social and environmental problems; the damaging effect on the health of local citizens and the integrity of ecosystems, downstream forests, and unique copper-cobalt flora cannot be avoided.

Given the recent acceptance of three new copper-cobalt ventures in Katanga involving as much as 75% of the country’s copper-cobalt resources, these inequities may be practically permanent. And as most of the contracts stand today the people of the DRC will not receive fair remuneration for environmental degradation.