The Anatomy of a Mine

In Dust Control, Haul Road Dust Control®, Mine & Quarry by Jim Silva

Mines serve an extremely important role in the extraction of natural resources on a global scale. But what’s the difference between a surface mine and an underground mine, and how does each one work? Let’s take a closer look at the anatomy of these essential operations.

Our industrialized world runs on minerals — we depend on natural resources for just about every type of technology we use on a daily basis. While these resources do literally come out of the ground, their extraction can be an extremely complicated process. For major extraction operations, a proper mine is necessary — but of course, every mine is different.

They vary to accommodate geography, the specific circumstances of the surrounding environment, and the types of materials they’re dedicated to producing, among other factors. When you boil it down to the most basic level, there are two types of mines: surface mines and subsurface (underground) mines, according to Science Clarified. And when you dig into the basic anatomies of these two types, there’s a wealth of information ready and waiting for extraction.

Surface Mines

Great Mining explains how surface mining is typically the preferred method when the mineral deposits being extracted are located closer to the Earth’s surface, allowing the surface material covering the valuable deposit to be easily removed without damaging the goods beneath. According to Science Clarified, about 90% of the rock and mineral resources mined in the United States and more than 60% of the nation’s coal is produced by surface mining techniques.

One of the most common types of surface mining is open-pit mining. In this method, a large borrow, or pit, is utilized to dig out the desired resources. These mines typically consist of a few separate component areas, according to PwC: the pit itself, which is dug out in tiered “benches” or blasted open to reach the ore deposit, the ore or mineral deposit being extracted, the waste dump, where excess rock and ground materials are relocated after being removed to reach the ore deposit, and, in the case of operations that process the mineral materials on site, a processing plant and tailings pond for the byproducts of the refining process, as Great Mining relates.

When the natural resources to be mined are found over a wider surface area, rather than concentrated in one place under the Earth’s surface, strip mining methods are often employed.

Underground Mines

Today’s underground mines are highly engineered, automated operations that are optimized to maximize extraction from the Earth in the safest possible manner. Often built into the side of a mountain, underground mines are generally accessed by a horizontal passage (an adit) or a vertical passage (a shaft). These passages and adjoining tunnels are firmly reinforced, and, since the work takes place deep underground, ventilation systems are an essential feature as well.

At Chile’s El Teniente mine, the world’s largest underground copper operation, the network of tunnels extends over 3,000 kilometers in total distance, according to — which is about the same as the distance between Las Vegas and New York. After the ore is excavated by semi-autonomous systems, a railroad line hauls the ore to on-site processing centers.

Solutions for Mining

No matter which type of mine operators use to extract materials from the Earth, it’s important to employ the most efficient, safe, and environmentally conscious methods possible. That’s where Midwest Industrial Supply Inc. comes in. Midwest provides mine operators with the best solutions to address issues that come along with industrial activities, like dusty haul roads, material handling safety, and even the management of mine tailings.

Along with improved efficiency, Midwest’s products are all specially engineered to conform to industry safety and environmental regulations. Since mining is such an important and essential endeavor, understanding the ways that the industry operates is just the first step — making sure it can operate at the highest level possible is the next.

(Image credit: Craig Dietrich/flickr)

Jim is Midwest’s Business Unit Manager for Global Mining. He is experienced in operations management, asset management, and business improvement.