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What Is an Extractive Industry?

By Paul Scott
Updated May 17, 2024
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An extractive industry is one which consumes or utilizes naturally occurring raw materials in a non-sustainable and environmentally-damaging manner. In other words, it is any industry based on the intrusive and aggressive removal of a non-renewable natural resource. Good examples of extractive industries are the mining, crude oil, and natural gas industries. Forestry, on the other hand, makes use of a renewable resource and is therefore not an extractive industry. Recent global green trends have focused a huge amount of attention and research on many mainstream extractive industries in an attempt to develop viable, long-term alternatives to their products.

Extractive industry is a term used to describe any concern involved in exploration for or the extraction and usage of non-renewable natural resources. Non-renewable in this sense is understood to mean natural resources that present no practical means of sustaining their volumes. This is an important distinction, as some activities such as fishing and hunting are sometimes incorrectly labeled as being extractive industries. The removal of resources such as minerals, crude oil, and natural gas are, however, classified as such, as these resources are irreversibly depleted during extraction.

Apart from the continuous depleting of the resource in question, one of the characteristics of an extractive industry which has seen increasing global attention from green action groups is the damage that these industries do to the environment. Pollution and noise or visual intrusion are among the main points on which environmental protection organizations are focusing, with much work being put into the abatement of these issues by the industries themselves. These points are not, however, the only inherent weakness of any extractive industry.

The fact that extractive industry can never be part of any long-term sustainable development plan is of particular concern to all players. As negative a role as these industries often play, they are responsible for a wealth of positive inputs apart from the obvious benefits gained from their products. Employment and supporting industry activities are also under threat should any extractive industry reach the end of its resource pool. Replacement of critical products, particularly energy and fuel, with viable alternatives is perhaps the most serious of all of these concerns and is the focus of a substantial amount of research and development. The replacement of many present extractive industry products with truly sustainable substitutes must count as one of the most pressing concerns facing the world community as of 2011.

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