Tackling energy and mining pollution

Energy production from oil, natural gas, and coal has major implications for water. Thermoelectric power generation (basically using the heat from gasoline or diesel fuel combustion to create electrical energy) typically results in heated water being released into our rivers; natural gas extraction, like fracking, can contaminate local streams and drinking water sources; and coal mining destroys headwater streams with valley fills. Even energy sources considered “clean” have impacts. For instance, traditional hydropower relies on dams which restrict rivers, impede fish migration, and impact river temperature, habitat and water quality. Other energy sources (e.g., wind, solar, nuclear, biomass) may be less harmful to rivers and other waters, but they are not completely benign.  

Hard rock mining has a long history of water pollution both during resource extraction as well as many years after a mine has been retired as a result of unintentional releases from tailings ponds and other containments. Not only do current mining activities affect water quality, but legacy contaminants continue to plague our waterways. Acid mine drainage can impact streams for thousands of years and acid rain from coal-fired power plant emissions can affect aquatic ecosystems for generations.  

Given that we all need energy and resources from mining, what is the solution? Choose products that are energy efficient, develop energy conservation habits in our homes and businesses, choose public transportation or low carbon footprint transportation options, advocate for clean, low-water energy options (e.g., wind and solar (passive, closed-loop solar thermal water heaters and photovoltaic systems)), close loopholes for environmental liability, and provide funding for cleanup.     

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