Extractive Industries

| February 19, 2010 Print

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Extractive industries, such as mining and oil and gas drilling, have historically inflicted lasting damage to the communities and environments in which they are located. Rarely do poor people or countries benefit from the extraction of these resources, which too often destroy the environment, exploit local labor, displace communities and undermine sustainable development.

“The right of life to people is inseparable from their right to sources of food and livelihood. Allowing the interests of big mining corporations to prevail over people’s right to these sources amounts to violating their right to life. Furthermore, mining threatens people’s health and environmental safety through the wanton dumping of waste and tailings in rivers and seas.”

-Catholic Conference of Philippine Bishops

The environmental damage caused by the extraction of the Earth’s inner wealth has been incalculable. Gas leaks from the Camisea pipeline in Peru, for example, have triggered devastating fires and contaminated rivers, while deforestation in order to retrieve and transport the gas has caused erosion and landslides in one of the most bio-diverse regions on Earth.

Meanwhile, the remarkable biodiversity contained in Chile’s forests is being cleared to make way for industrial tree farms, displacing indigenous communities in the process. In the Philippines, cyanide spills from mining operations have leaked into surrounding bodies of water. And in Appalachia, giant earth movers strip away foliage and dirt, pushing the waste into valleys and waterways, and lowering mountaintops by as much as 500 feet to access coal seams.

Serious health and safety concerns for nearby communities and families, as well as for workers, accompany this environmental devastation. Extraordinarily high rates of nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and asthma have been documented among children in mining regions.

Uncontrolled logging and mining activities in the Philippines have caused dozens of landslides each year, burying villages and killing hundreds of people. At the same time, dangerous working conditions inside the mines compounded by weak, unenforced or nonexistent regulations have resulted in increasing miner accidents and deaths, as evidenced in the United States by tragedies at the Sago and Harlan County mines in West Virginia.

Communities are rarely informed of or consulted about the expansion of extractive industries into their lands, and when they resist the intrusion they are met by increasing militarization and repression.

Indigenous peoples have been particularly affected. Pushed off traditional lands to make way for mining operations or gas and oil drilling, or forced to leave anyway as limited water resources are diverted to the mines and what remains is polluted by toxic runoff, traditional livelihoods and cultural practices are undermined.

The Earth and its resources should be respected and used wisely, not exploited without regard to human or ecological consequences. Ironically, it is some of the poorest countries that are among the wealthiest in deposits of oil and gas, gold, silver and copper, as well as other natural resources, such as trees and coral reefs.

These countries and their populations should be able to benefit from this wealth and use it to determine their own path to development. We believe that a more ecologically sound and equitable system of resource management is possible.

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