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The Mining Fishbowl Syndrome

Have you ever worked in a glass building where your every movement could be scrutinized by others who don’t have the slightest inkling as to what you do or value you add?

An easy target

In some respects, this analogy can be equated to the mining industry. For many years, the sector was perceived and looked upon as the perpetrator of exploitation with scant disregard for the people or the environment within which they operate. Mining operations have always been and remain an easy target to criticise. Characteristically, they are large tangible assets, with multiple disciplines, operating in an open financial and environmental system. Mines do not have an end consumer product per se, merely a raw material produced for others to fabricate. It can also be argued that the mining sector has in the past done little to protect itself from criticism, or even to educate a wider audience on their part in the global economy and the invaluable support given to surrounding communities. Mankind has always mined, so historically there will always be examples of incidents. However, like other industries, modern responsible mining is different, with technological advances and ever increasing levels of accountability evident in the majority of public and privately owned companies.

Does any sector contribute more to social responsibility programmes?

Is there, or has there ever been an economic sector that contributes more per dollar, to social upliftment programmes, tax revenue, infrastructure or skills development? Mines by design with large labour requirements are similar to micro cities; often providing energy, schools, clinics, infrastructure, employment and recreational facilities to their surrounding communities.  When compared to other US$ billion industries; do the likes of the automobile, medical, financial, consumer, sport, technology or transport delivery sectors contribute anything close to what the mining industry contributes to their local communities? In fact, many operators within these other sectors strategically position themselves to minimise any social responsibility programmes and tax.

Let’s also talk safety

Mining is hazardous by nature and any accident is of course regrettable. However, modern mining in general is accountable, the number of accidents recorded overall are incredibly small given the manhours worked, and operations generally strive for continuous improvement. Comparing industries directly, it would be interesting to know how many Uber or Amazon drivers have accidents per day, how the decisions made by banking institutions effect the mental health of their clients, or even, how many social media posts hosted by IT companies have unintended consequences resulting in lapses in safety concentration or feelings of isolation or depression?

The fog is lifting

The fog is however slowly lifting and the world is waking up to the fact that it needs mining now more than ever. The old adage ‘if it’s not grown, then it is mined’ has never been truer as world economics fanatically pursues the path of net zero, all underpinned by critical mineral mining. No longer the bad egg in the economic basket, it now is the golden egg which needs to be nurtured.

A case study in the ‘mining fishbowl syndrome’

The years of interference by a German sponsored ‘environmental’ NGO, operating in Romania, is a case in point. Objecting to Euro Sun Mining’s Rovina Valley Project (RVP) on ‘environmental permitting’ grounds, far removed from realities on the ground, the NGO has negated to understand that the project’s environmental impact is negligible and strictly controlled by EU law. Using obstructive legal argument, the NGO has also had scant regard for the wishes of the local population, who desperately want economic investment to create employment, infrastructure and to save their villages from ruin following years of interference. The RVP is in fact arguably one of Europe’s finest examples of mining projects that will deliver minimal environmental disruption and restore beleaguered villages into economic hubs, honouring mining traditions that span thousands of years. The tide is however turning in Romania as the merits on responsible mining become better understood.

Europe is changing its mining strategy

For some European countries, the trend this last decade of unbalanced environmental political extremism has come at the expense of energy and economic security. Ironically these politics ultimately undermine the ability to meet net zero targets and have transformed economies to rely more on China. The reality is that policies needed to change, because an impoverished future European population and stressed economy, will not care about net zero if their hierarchical needs change. Through education and desire for critical mineral security, the slow realisation that policies need to be balanced is beginning to filter through legislative actions . This includes new legislation such as the Critical Raw Materials Act which includes recognition that mining activity supports economic sustainability, and is key to the energy transition.

Turning the fishbowl upside down

Maybe it is time for the mining fishbowl to be turned upside down and to be used instead as a viewing glass to see which other sectors contribute as much per capita. For too long now it has been too easy to throw stones at mining in the name of the environment, safety or even economics. With no real understanding of modern responsible mining methodology, it may be time to re-evaluate the crucial role played in local and regional development, the absolutely positive contribution made to the wellbeing of millions of people in mining communities around the world, and the fundamental role supplying the world’s raw materials. It is also time for the mining industry to stand proud and be recognised as the enabler to a brighter future and the supplier of the green energy transition. Simply put,  economic sustainability, net zero and the entire energy transition depend on the contribution made by responsible mining. There is also no other sector to pick up the economic and social development mantle which has always been held by the mining sector.


The above opinion piece (and vent) is my own and does not represent the opinions of any organisations I work for. I remain a proud supporter of responsible mining and advocate for the mining profession to achieve the vocational status and recognition it so rightly deserves.

Published by

Richard Dolamore

April 2024

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