Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The “robbery mining”:
grab the money and run

by Nicola Careddu*

Ph.D., Mining Engineer, Associate Professor
Civil, Environmental Engineering and Architecture Department, University of Cagliari (Italy)
email: ncareddu@unica.it

Nicola Careddu
Robbery mining refers to the irrational and unplanned exploitation of natural resources. It refers to mining activity which is carried out with no adequate safety standards in working places. This kind of mining activity dates back to ancient times and it has remained in operation until modern ones anywhere in the world.

Avid and unethical exploitations, which the Germans have always referred to as "raubbau" ("coltivazione a rapina" in Italian), took place when miners and/or entrepreneurs mined the best portions of ore deposit and then proceeded to immediately close their activity down. Such mining methods prevented any further work including any potential discovery of other parts of deposits which may have been of economic interest [1].

In the U.S.A. the term "gophering" was also used to indicate mining in irregular drifts or other openings, which "follow or seek ore with no regard to maintenance of a regular grade or section"; this method was also called "coyoting" in Western U.S.A., which generally designates any small-size, irregular, unsystematic workings [2].

Throughout history, this mining method consisted on small excavations in which walls required little or no support; it goes without saying that this method could be applied in portions of veins, beds or masses, but it is the worst option in well-planned and managed mining. When used to mine abundant seams in a large orebody, robbery mining often resulted in short-term profits with a possible loss, incurring when the irregular openings resulted in the excessive increase in the cost of mining of low-grade parts.

When discussing mining legislation in 1871 in Italy, the deputy and finance minister Quintino Sella underlined the fact that "ownership rights have been conferred to the owner of the ground over the mine, which in many cases has charged a high fee on the extracted minerals, to be paid by the miner who works in the quarry. The situation described is reminiscent of the feudal system", which was exactly what was happening in regions such as Tuscany and Sicily.

Miners were encouraged to provide incentives for that system, and asked to immediately extract the best minerals they could find, without spending money and time for improvements. Work conditions used to be inhuman as workers were exposed to humidity, heat, gases, scarce ventilation, shoulder carrying, work shifts, etc. Basic forms of protection for miners did not exist.

Sella went on explaining that "such fees on the mining industry, may be convenient if spent to cover the use of the land, even if the impact is lower when miners work in a shallower environment than those who work in deeper environment, and who are the ones to be affected more".

Sella's arguments reflected a technical-economical point of view, which also included ethics: "as a matter of fact, the servitude of miners to landlords has had the unequivocal effect of limiting the extractions to more superficial layers, and prevented a massive production of minerals, ultimately resulting in what the Germans have eloquently defined as Raubbau, i.e. robbery-mining".

If the objective of mining is to dig out only what can make higher earnings on a short term, then "raubbau" looks more like a bank robbery: grab the money and run. A long term planning facilitate the delivery of more complex projects, including deeper excavations, water management, ventilation, all of which would improve the life of miners and the productivity of mines. Instead, there are still cases in which it doesn’t really matter if people die at work, nor does it matter if same areas are exploited over and over again at the sole expense of the environment and health of miners, resulting in serious social, health and environmental issues for many years to come.

Sella had already clear in his mind the idea of responsible mining and a better and ethical way to exploit minerals.


[1] Careddu N., Di Capua G., Siotto G. (2019). Dimension stone industry should meet the fundamental values of geoethics. Resources Policy, 63, 101468. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resourpol.2019.101468.
[2] Peele R. (1941). Mining Engineer’s Handbook, Vol. 1. Wiley.
[3] Sella Q. (1871). Sulle condizioni dell’industria mineraria nell’isola di Sardegna, Relazione alla Commissione parlamentare d’inchiesta. Firenze, Tipografia Eredi Botta, 1871 (in Italian).


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