By Jack Caldwell - Mining Engineer - Robertson GeoConsultants

Seldom on a Sunday is there a good book about mining to read. Today I hit the jackpot. I read Understanding Mining Around the Quadrilatero Ferrifero. A formidable title, but an easy and pleasant read. Three authors are listed: Paulo Tarso Amorim Castro; Herminio Arias Nalini Junior; and Hernani Mota De Lima.

The original is in Portuguese, for the Quadrilatero Ferrifero is in Brazil. A quaint translation is provided on pages opposite the original language. I quote the translation below without edit.

In an introduction by Angelo Machado of the Biodiversity Foundation, we find this fascinating admission:

My personal opinion, very negative towards the mining companies in the beginning has completely changed, and for that it was very important a trip I have made to the Carajas Iron Ore Mine that belong to Vale, in the state of Para. From the aircraft window I was able to see the fully devastated areas that surround the great forest in which the open pit mine is, and that looks like a deep crater. It then came to my mind that the ore of that “crater” supply the resources to protect that forest that features an enormous diversity.

He goes through many such admissions of personal change of mind about mining. The basis of his change of mind and heart is obviously the fact that before mining the forest were hunted and cut to smithereens. With the coming of mining, reclamation was undertaken and the forest diversity restored. He concludes the introduction on this high note:

From the historic and panoramic view of the relationship between the mining companies and the environmentalist movement, it is clear that the time of great conflict is over, mainly because most of the mining companies operate in environmentally-friendly way. Then again, the environmentalist movements has got more mature and prone to the dialogs. On the other hand, the public image of the mining companies remains negative, mainly regarding the media that, encouraged by the radical NGOs or the ignorance of the society, place the serious companies on the same baseline as they place the omissive and/or neglecting companies regarding the environmental issues.

I love the phrase “serious companies on the same baseline as the omissive and/or neglecting companies.” Sadly it is the omissive & neglecting companies that spoil it for the serious companies and make it necessary for the environmentalist to be ever vigilant.

The book is expensively produced: glossy pages; color illustrations, fine graphics, and skilled layout. I must note Sanakan Firmino for Design Grafico (not sure if this is a person or company.)

The book is intended to inform and educate the otherwise mining-ignorant of mining in Brazil. Thus we have chapters on the history of mining world-wide, the history of mining in Brazil, the economic benefits of mining in Brazil, and the interrelationship of society, the environment, and mining.

Here is part of what is written on tailings dams—as good an example as any of the approach and level of detail of the rest of the book.

One of the methods used to prevent and mitigate the silting of the downstream rivers in the mining areas is the construction of scrap dams. In most cases, the basic objective of a scrap dam is to hold the scraps and effluents to preserve the structure and functionality of the affected fluvial system. So, the operation of a mine will cause the least possible environmental impact on its surrounding community. The main short-term and long-term environmental-related problems associated with the tailings dams include the following;

  • Surface and underground water pollution during its operation and after shutdown
  • Dam stability and safety
  • The dust produced in the sand beach
  • Visual impact
  • Deforestation

The stability of a dam is crucial for the permanent storage of the liquid effluents and solid scraps originating from the mining process work. The main factors that influence the stability of a dam are its height and slope, the geotechnical characteristics of the dam foundation and damming construction materials, besides the hydrology and seismic characteristics of the region.

We must laud the authors for their work. We must laud those who financed the book. It is a great attempt to put mining in Brazil in a good light. I wonder if this book has or will succeed in that undertaking. Maybe we need similar efforts by the oil sands folk, the uranium mines, the copper people of Arizona, and the universities of Peru and Chile.

It is difficult to discern who the publisher is. Where a normal book lists the publisher, I find only Belo Horizonte. Isn’t that a town in Brazil, not a publisher? All I could find is the universal ISBN number which is 978-85-64748-00-2. All the authors work at an organization listed as CNPq, if that helps.I could not find the book on Amazon.com. I loaned the book from a friend, who got it as a gift. Email me and I will forward the email to him if you seek the book.

PS. A few thoughts on words and their meaning. Omissive is a new word to me; but a good word to describe a negligent as compared to a serious mining company. Another new word that I came across this weekend while listening to an obscure opera is peccant. Peccant means guilty of a moral offence. It comes from the Latin peccare = to err or to offend. May we brand an ommisve mining company a peccant mining company?

Note that in the original Portuguese of the book that I write of here, serious and omisive and/or negligent are translations of seria e as omissas e/or negligentes. A scrap dam is the transation of barragens. Tailings dam is a translation of barragens de rejeitos. I concede that a proper translation would probably be a reject dam with tailings being mining rejects. Not a bad set of words.

Finally, from my youth, the phrase gadding about. This means to mess around, to play, to indulge in frivolous pass-times. Just the kind of thing that irresponsible miners do. Thus we coin a new phrase: omissive, peccant miners gadding about. Instead of creating wealth and restoring past omissions and getting down to serious responsible, sustainable development.

We despair of the terminology of vituperation & laudation. Particularly as applied to mining.