What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Surface Mining?

Advantages of surface mining include economic and financial benefits for miners and communities and a safer alternative to pit mining, but its disadvantages include environmental impacts, such as erosion and contamination. Surface mining, also called strip mining, delivers economically vital supplies of coal, which powers transportation and creates consumer products, boosting local economies. This type of mining occurs primarily on mountaintops, and dates back to the early 20th century when new machines made moving earth easier.

Supporters of surface mining contend it promotes clean energy, producing less environmental disturbance than pit mining. However, opponents of surface mining cite many issues with its operations. It draws criticism for polluting and changing local streams, filling them with rocks and potentially harmful toxins. Surface mining also requires the clearing of large tracts of land, which necessitates removal of many acres of forest. The cutting of trees invites erosion, as tree roots anchor soil and earthen material to the land’s surface. Altering the landscape also impacts the local plant and wildlife populations, as plants and animals lose their homes to the mining operations. The risk of spills and leaks increases with surface mining, and the establishment of mines jeopardizes the value and structural integrity of surrounding homes and real estate.