Science | June 25, 2022 4:44 pm

Environmental Questions Surround Abandoned California Gold Mine

The mine was closed decades ago

Gold mining has both costs and benefits.
Jingming Pan/Unsplash

In 1956, the Idaho-Maryland gold mine in California closed its doors for the last time. The site stood abandoned for many years — a status quo that benefitted the local environment. Now, as detailed by an article by Hailey Branson-Potts at the Los Angeles Times, the mine has a new owner who’s looking to reopen it. And, as you might expect, that’s led to more than a little controversy.

Branson-Potts’s article describes the mine shaft as going 3,400 feet into the ground. There is almost certainly more gold there, but a worrying question looms over the proceedings: is it worthwhile to reopen the mine and restart operations?

A draft of the Environmental Impact Report for the project was released earlier this year, and — according to an article in The Union — noted that its impact would vary depending on the category. In some categories, the environmental impact might require significant mitigation; in others, that wouldn’t be the case.

The debate over the mine has been going on for a while. A 2020 report from the Sierra Fund explored some of the questions surrounding the project, for instance. Current events have brought certain elements of the project to the foreground, however. As the Los Angeles Times article notes, the fact that the mine requires water being pumped in is more contentious given the drought conditions the state has experienced in recent years.

The conflict between industry and the environment is an ongoing one. In the case of this particular mine, though, some aspects of that are particularly fraught right now — and, given climate change’s continuing presence, that’s unlikely to change.