areas, involving perhaps several hundred square kilometers. Typical activities include geologic mapping, geochemical sampling, and surface geophysical surveying, which are carried out on the ground without large-scale equipment. Although the environment is affected by these activities, the impacts are minor.

Only in the subsequent, subsurface examination of still smaller areas is there any appreciable environmental impacts—from drilling, trenching (bulldozing a trench to examine near-surface rocks), and the associated road building to provide access for drill rigs and bulldozers. Such impacts can be mitigated, albeit at a cost, by reclaiming drill sites and trenches and by revegetating roads. In some instances, the need for roads in remote areas has been eliminated by using helicopters to deliver drilling equipment.

For every one hundred or so mineral deposits that are discovered and evaluated in detail during exploration, fewer than ten on average will be prepared for production during the second stage of mineral production, mine development. During development, mining companies design and construct mining and beneficiation facilities, arrange for financing, provide for infrastructure, and develop marketing strategies, among other activities. The environmental impacts of these activities are more significant than those resulting from exploration but much less than those of mineral production itself.

Two types of public policy are critical during mineral exploration and mine development. The first type of public policy consists of land use rules governing whether land is available for exploration and development. The second type, applicable on those lands available for mineral activities, consists of environmental rules governing permits, environmental impact assessments, and other preproduction activities and approvals that are necessary to proceed from exploration to mine development and mining—in short, the process of environmental compliance prior to mining.

Land-use rules are important because, before mining companies can undertake mineral exploration and development, they need access to prospective mineralized lands. To be sure, in situations where mineral rights are privately held, land access is gained through negotiation between interested private parties. But for most lands worldwide, mineral rights are held by governments.1

Explorers or miners typically gain access to these lands in one of three ways: negotiation with a government agency, competitive bidding, and—in a few cases, such as in the United States—claim staking (that is, claiming the right to explore on a first-come, first-served basis when lands are considered open for exploration unless they are specifically declared off-limits, such as for national parks or wilderness areas). Existing land-use policies have placed large tracts of land off-limits to mineral exploration and development in a number of countries, including Australia, Canada, and the United States. The desire to avoid the environmental damages of mining is an important reason behind these withdrawals of land from mineral activities.

Public policies in the second category, rules governing the preproduction process of complying with environmental rules, take a number of forms. The most



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement