Gold Mining In the ‘Hood: Morro do Ouro Gold Mine – Paracatu, Brazil

How’d you like to have a fast-growing open-pit gold mine in your neighborhood?


Town of Paracatu with mining operation (gray) in the background.

That’s a serious question facing the folks in Paracatu, in the Minas Gerais state of eastern Brazil. Gold mining there has occurred since the early 1700’s, but really kicked into high gear with full-scale open-pit mining beginning in the 1980s, becoming the biggest gold mine in Brazil. Since 2006, a Canadian company, Kinross Gold Corporation, has owned and operated the mine and recently began a major expansion. SkyTruth has created a gallery of vertical and panoramic views showing the mine, processing facilities, tailings impoundment, and proximity to Paracatu, a city of about 100,000 people.

This certainly isn’t the only place where mining and neighborhoods collide. Check out our gallery for Cerro de Pasco in Peru.

Cerro de Pasco mine, Peru

And here in the US, the Berkeley Pit copper/gold mine in Butte, Montana, gradually ate up neighborhoods throughout the life of the mine. Now the closed mine poses a toxic threat to groundwater that has landed in the lap of local residents and US taxpayers. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. We’ve posted a couple of pics of this gem.

Berkeley Pit, Butte, Montana

Cotter Uranium Mill Superfund Site, Colorado

We’re finding some interesting things with the FEMA flood data. Yesterday it was coal-combustion waste storage in high-risk flood zones; today it’s uranium mill process wastes:

The Cotter Corporation, a subsidiary of General Atomics, began operating a uranium mill on the outskirts of Canon City, Colorado, in 1958. Liquid wastes containing radionuclides and heavy metals were discharged from 1958 to 1978 into eleven unlined tailings ponds. The ponds were replaced in 1982 with the construction of two lined impoundments. Prior to 1982, a number of Lincoln Park wells showed elevated levels of contamination. The site was placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites on September 21, 1984.

In 2001, Cotter Corp. applied for a license amendment to reopen the mill. (Click here for more information).

We overlaid flood data from FEMA showing areas at high risk of flooding that cross the Cotter facility and lead directly into residential neighborhoods just one mile from the site. Check out our small gallery of images.

Yikes. I wonder what we’ll find tomorrow.

Data source: FEMA Stay-Dry flood data (a Google Earth file)

UPDATE 4/27/09: Watch a 10-minute documentary film on the Cotter mill site and other issues surrounding uranium mining and milling (produced by Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste).

Uranium Mining – Another Side to Nuclear Power

With energy prices rising steadily, nuclear power is reviving. The number of reactors worldwide is now 315, jumping by 93 (42%) in 2007. So it’s no surprise that uranium mining is booming. Thousands of new uranium mining claims have been staked across the US in the past few years, existing uranium mines are ramping up production, defunct mines are being re-opened, and new mine proposals crop up like mushrooms (hmmm….), especially in the Western US, even along the rim of the Grand Canyon.

It’s good to remember that it’s not just nuclear waste that’s a serious problem; the mining, processing and transport of uranium can get ugly too. Case in point: an in-situ uranium mine near Douglas Wyoming — touted by industry and government officials as a model for modern uranium-mining techniques — is now being investigated for “an alarming volume of environmental violations.” Take a look at our Google Earth-generated pics of the site (showing what appears to be an open dumpsite next to the main facility, with open ponds and trenches containing water or other liquids). Earth users, download our KMZ to take your own self-guided tour. Try your hand at image analysis, and let us know what you think is going on at this site.

Why support SkyTruth? A Funder’s Perspective

I work at the WestWind Foundation, a family foundation based in Charlottesville, Virginia, that provides support to non-profits working to stop mountaintop removal coal mining. WestWind has supported SkyTruth since 2004. Before coming to WestWind, I knew little of the technical analysis performed by SkyTruth. But in the past year, I have learned something of the destruction being wrought everyday upon the southern Appalachian mountains. Blasting off the tops of mountains to extract coal contributes to groundwater contamination and health problems, disrupts the lives of local people living with constant detonation, fills in hundreds of miles of streams, and destroys the ecological heritage of one of the most biologically diverse regions of the country.

At first, I wondered how a picture from space could possibly capture all the destruction, devastation, pain, and injustice that is caused by this type of coal mining. When I had the opportunity to view SkyTruth’s maps and images, and to learn exactly what their modeling and analysis could show, I was amazed. David, John and their team have uncovered and mapped the extent of mountaintop removal mining in the southern Appalachians, something that has never before been undertaken by government or industry (let alone a small non-profit). I watched, amazed, as David showed how the devastation has advanced over a thirty-year period, devouring a majority of the land area within certain counties in southwestern Virginia and eastern Kentucky.

Although the data and the maps are impressive, they alone are not what make SkyTruth’s work successful and engaging. The partnership between SkyTruth and Appalachian Voices is a truly unique relationship between science and the grassroots, and between data analysis and story-telling. Appalachian Voices has built a revolutionary website that allows anyone in the country to input their zip code and trace their energy utility’s use of mountaintop removal coal. SkyTruth provides the technical data and maps that show which mountains have been destroyed; Appalachian Voices provides the human stories behind the devastation. Both strategies are necessary to end this kind of ecological and community destruction.

What continues to impress me about SkyTruth is that this kind of behind-the-scenes advocacy is not limited to southern Appalachian coal communities. SkyTruth works to illustrate the impacts of natural gas drilling in Wyoming; diamond mining in Canada; oil and tar sands in Canada, Australia, and Colorado; trawling in the Gulf of Mexico, and the list goes on. What lies at the heart of SkyTruth’s mission is a deep concern for the planet’s shared ecological commons, and the commitment to bringing images of their destruction to the public.

Pebble Mine, Alaska

What could become one of the world’s biggest open-pit gold mines, called the Pebble Mine, is being proposed in southwest Alaska. Opponents of the plan, including sportsmen, commercial fisherman, many native Alaskans, and former Alaska governor Jim Hammond, are concerned that the mine could affect the economically important wild-salmon fishing and tourism industries. The mine site is located in the headwaters of streams flowing into Lake Iliamana and Bristol Bay.

SkyTruth has generated a gallery of satellite images showing what the mine site looks like now, and a series of simulations based on several versions of the mine development plan that have been published by the mining company, Northern Dynasty. A tip o’ the hat to one of SkyTruth’s talented volunteers, Andrew Vernon, who produced this simulation showing the most recent plan.

And another nod to Erin and Hig McKittrick for their excellent Pebble Mine website, including a blog, photo gallery, and interactive Google map of the Pebble Mine site and surrounding area. All in all, this is an outstanding example of the “ground truth” comment Paul discussed a few days ago. Expect to see a whole lot more of this in 2008!