173 19 Mining and the Lake Eyre Basin environment – past, present and possible futures Gavin M. Mudd Introduction The extraction of mineral and energy resources has a varied history across the Lake Eyre Basin, especially on its fringes, growing considerably since the 1960s. Given the recent mining and energy boom, especially coal, coal seam gas (CSG) and base metals, resource extraction will grow around and within the Lake Eyre Basin. This brings benefits in minerals, metals or energy resources and economic activity, but it also brings substantial environmental risks, if not managed well. This has always been the heart of the mining debate – balancing risks and benefits – ideally within the ecological resilience of the local, regional and global environment. Georgius Agricola, one of the earliest scholars of metal mining, recognised this in the 16th century in his treatise De Re Metallica (Agricola 1556, p. 8): [T]he strongest argument of the detractors is that the fields are devastated by mining operations … Also they argue that the woods and groves are cut down, for there is need of an endless amount of wood for timbers, machines, and the smelting of metals. And when the woods and groves are felled, then are exterminated the beasts and birds, very many of which furnish a pleasant and agreeable food for man. Further, when the ores are washed, the water which has been used poisons the brooks and streams, and either destroys the fish or drives them away. Therefore the inhabitants of these regions, on account of the devastation of their fields, woods, groves, brooks and rivers, find great difficulty in procuring the necessaries of life … Thus it is said, it is clear to all that there is greater detriment from mining than the value of the metals which the mining produces. Agricola, a firm supporter of mining and its products for society, clearly understood the significant environmental and social risks. His warnings are just as relevant today to the management of the Lake Eyre Basin: balancing the benefits of economic development against the social and environmental risks. Sustainable management of the Lake Eyre Basin is at stake. I review the status of mineral and energy resources within and adjacent to the Lake Eyre Basin, key production trends, potential environmental impacts and risks, illustrated by case studies from important sectors or accidents. Finally, I consider the implications for the future sustainability of the Lake Eyre Basin.
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