Saturday, September 25, 2010

Extra-terrestrial mining: issues in environmental and heritage management

Today I am trawling through data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, to get a handle on the state of the mining industry in Australia.  This is for a couple of reasons:  firstly, many of our graduates from the Department of Archaeology at Flinders University will end up working in heritage management for the resource extraction industry; and I have been having some interesting conversations recently with Dr John Kinahan, an archaeologist and heritage consultant from Namibia, about common experiences working with mining companies in our respective countries. We are thinking of writing something about it.

I was thinking to myself, as I looked at the trends in OPBT (Operating Profit Before Tax, as I now know) that there is not much space relevance in my task for this morning.

But wait!  Not so, I have realised.  One of the big space industries on the horizon, predicted for many many decades, is mining.  The Moon, asteroids, probably other celestial bodies too.  One supposes that extra-terrestrial mining will work in much the same way as it does on Earth:  exploration, pre-feasibility studies, feasilibity studies, planning, construction, operation, decommissioning and rehabilitation.

There will of course be environmental issues, particularly with rehabilitation.  How exactly do you rehabilitate a lifeless site? There is no vegetation to grow back, or animal communities to reestablish.  Will extra-terrestrial mining companies pay for rehabilitation at all?  How will environmental groups and those concerned with the ethics of our exploitation of space approach this issue?  Do we even want to erase the evidence of our activities?  Perhaps it is better to make it obvious that a mining site is not natural.  All this depends on what we think the values of space environments are, and as I have often opined in various writings, space industry barely conceives of space as an environment to begin with, so it's a bit of a leap to get them to think about its values.

Heritage issues may come in if mining operations of whatever kind take place on or near historic landing sites.  There may also be things to think about in the heritage values of the mining infrastructure - heritage as it happens, in the now.  We have to consider the human values of the use of space too.

Now that I think of these things I am intrigued by the possibilities.  How would one write an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) or a Cultural Heritage Management Plan (CHMP) for an extraterrestrial mining site?  How would they be similar or different to terrestrial mining sites?  Will the Outer Space Treaty be of any relevance?  (Actually there is some interesting literature on how the OST might work in the context of national resource extraction industries).

Well, I'd better focus on terrestrial mining for the moment, it would be too easy to get distracted at this point when I have other things to do!  I'll make another coffee, I think, before I get back to the stats.

1 comment:

  1. What of the first extraterrestrial mining site? Once it has been built, will we allow them to mine there, or will its heritage value override?

    Doubtful, but an interesting thought nonetheless.