Innovations in Geoscience for Environmental Remediation
Innovations and technological advancements in geoscience are vitally important to the worldwide effort to reduce carbon footprints and implement processes and techniques that restore, protect, and preserve the environment.
From mining and mineral exploration, to oil and gas and other industries in geoscience, environmental cleanup and conservation efforts are targeting a variety of eco-preservative systems and technologies in heavy industry.
Solving Key Environmental Problems with Geoscience
Geoscientists and their teams collaborate on several important areas of discovery and exploration, with the goal of finding solutions for environmental cleanup, and preservation. Some of these challenges include:
- Improved prediction of Earth systems, climate patterns and behaviors
- Maintaining soils and productive agriculture
- Locating the most plentiful natural resource reserves for optimal extraction
- Safeguarding the environment with eco-conscious geoscientific development
- Identifying the geological controls on natural environments
- Minimizing the human impact on the habitats surrounding natural resource reserves
- Reducing the possibility of natural hazards, such as earthquakes or landslides, from mineral exploration and extraction activities
- Balancing society’s demand for natural resources with the importance of sustaining the environment and ecosystems
To address these challenges, specific innovations are being developed through improved systems and technologies that will completely transform how industries in geoscience operate in the future.
These innovations include the effective treatment of waste; the rehabilitation of old/abandoned mines or extraction sites; the utilization of clean and renewable energy; the reclamation and treatment of contaminated water; and the development of eco-friendly equipment, recyclable materials and green technologies.
Environmentally-Beneficial Innovations Within Geoscience
Treatment of Waste: Since the extraction of natural resources inherently creates waste, its treatment is a top concern for environmental advancements in geological extraction practices. Hydraulic Fracturing and other common techniques for mining and oil and gas extraction cause waste such as drilling fluids, cuttings, produced water, and fracturing fluid returns (also known as ‘flowback’).
The Environmental Protection Agency has standards for proper waste management, however, there are some developing technologies to improve the effectiveness of waste treatment in more eco-friendly ways. For example, phytostabilization involves the use of plants that have the ability to absorb particles of waste. As the heavy metals are absorbed from soil to plant, they are immobilized so as not to allow their spread by air. In mining, tailings are a common waste generated from the extraction of ore.
A new technology/tool known as a high-frequency electromagnetic sensor (HFEMS) helps minimize tailings by allowing more accurate measurement of the grade of ore, so only the richest ore deposits (with fewer tailings) are mined. “Miners can reduce their production of waste by as much as 60 per cent, and energy usage by as much as 16 per cent, for an overall cost savings of between 15 and 30 per cent,” according to MineSense, the company that developed this HFEMS.
Rehabilitating Old Sites: Industries within geosciences have a lot of work to do to recover from decades of irresponsible practices that resulted in severe environmental harm. From careless geological extraction methods that caused damage or instability in local ecosystems, to reprehensible (although previously legal) waste disposal practices, most old and/or abandoned mining sites require extensive environmental cleanup.
The use of biosolids is one method that current mining companies are using to remediate these contaminated sites and significantly reduce the environmental effects of mining. Policy changes are also facilitating environmental innovations, such as the EPA’s proposal requiring that mining companies prove their financial viability for cleaning up and preventing pollution at mining sites.
Using Renewable Energy: Mineral exploration, extraction, refinement and transportation are all steps within the process of producing oil and mining ore, and all of these steps involve significant levels of energy consumption. Industries within geoscience are prioritizing the discovery and advancement of alternative, renewable sources of energy in order to reduce the cost and amount of the energy used to power their operations. For example, these companies can look beyond diesel-hungry rigs for transporting large loads and instead use a hybrid option such as the MTI Hybrid.
Water Reclamation: Although the Clean Water Act placed critical regulations on mining and geological excavation, these activities commonly result in pollution of nearby water sources. The industry is developing important water reclamation methods and technologies in order to combat and treat contamination. Ecosphere Technologies has introduced their Ozonix technology, which removes soluble-organics, hydrocarbons and bacteria from residual wastewater streams to treat and clean them.
Developing Eco-Friendly Equipment & Green Technologies: Recycling has long been a theme for environmental consciousness in nearly every industry, and in geological production there have been some lucrative new methods of recycling, such as scrap mining. Additionally, companies are replacing their heavy duty diesel fueled vehicles with zero-emission ones, benefitting the environment and their costs, thanks to government-backed incentives.
Green technologies are transforming these industries with opportunities for reduced energy consumption, tools and equipment that make operations more efficient and less impactful on the environment, and systems that are more accurate to minimize waste of all kinds.
These innovations in technology and process have had an important and notable effect on the environmental impact from industries within geoscience. Oil and gas drilling, mineral exploration and mining are all implementing these initiatives to not only reduce the negative environmental effects of their operations, but also to build a more sustainable, eco-friendly future.