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What Is Open-Pit Mining?

Esther Ejim
By Esther Ejim
Updated May 17, 2024
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Just like the name suggests, open-pit mining is a type of mining operation that involves the digging of an open pit as a means of gaining access to a desired material. This is a type of surface mining that involves the extraction of minerals and other materials that are conveniently located in close proximity to the surface of the mining site. It differs from other types of mining processes that may require the digging of underground tunnels a long distance from the surface in order to reach the material. One of the advantages of the open-pit mining system is the fact that it is not as capital or labor intensive as the underground method of mineral or precious metal and stone extraction.

The process of open-pit mining is precipitated by the analysis of the area in order to determine the presence of the desired material that may be coal or ore. If it is determined that the desired materials are present in the area, the next step would be to calculate the stripping ratio of the mining process, meaning that even though ore, coal or another desired material may be present, the profitability of mining it has to be ascertained. This may be done by calculating how much of the surface material obstructing the mineral of choice has to be moved in order to reach the desired material. Generally, the less effort it takes to extract whatever material is in the sites, the more the mining company stands to gain in terms of profit as a consequence of the fact that the material and labor investments will be reduced. The stripping ratio in open-pit mining is important because the profitability of that particular mining venture hinges on the ability of the company to gain more from the extraction process than what it expends in order to obtain access to the material.

Usually, the open pit-mining system is one that is based on simplicity due to the fact that it merely requires the shifting of whatever material is covering the deposit. This process may be expedited if the top material is made up of easily maneuverable material, such as coarse sand, as opposed to rocks that may require more specialized equipment to break down and move them from the site. After a while, the profitability of such mines will decrease since the materials that are closest to the surface will have been mined.

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Discussion Comments

By KoiwiGal — On Jan 30, 2015

@pastanaga - There are advantages and disadvantages in every kind of mining process, but I'm not sure in a lot of cases that mining is necessary at all. That's the best means of ensuring that no one gets sick or that the environment maintains its integrity, after all.

By pastanaga — On Jan 30, 2015

@browncoat - Actually, open pit mining can be better than the alternative, as long as it's done well. For one thing, it isn't always done on pristine forested glades and usually there is a condition in the planning that the company involved has to fill in the pit when they're done and plant over it. So the land could end up being better than it was when they started.

And mining is extremely dangerous when you dig down under the ground instead of into it. Open pit mining might not be completely safe, but it's safer than having deep tunnels that will probably never be filled and may contain dangerous gases or become unstable over time.

By browncoat — On Jan 29, 2015

Open pit mining is just so destructive and awful I don't know how it can be allowed anywhere, let alone in the places it's often done. They basically just strip off huge chunks of land so that nothing can grow there and in the process they end up polluting nearby water supplies and disrupting every other local natural process, since they use loud, obtrusive machinery.

The pollution tends to be heavy metals that take forever to leave the ecosystem and cause all kinds of problems in any creature that encounters them.

Basically, it's the kind of exploitative resource gathering that ensures our grandkids are going to think we were complete idiots with no regard for our own health and wellness.

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