The main types of mining and their differences

Mining is a key global economic activity that has a millennial history and has evolved from the simple exploitation of surface resources in ancient times to the vast and complex extraction and deep underground mining operations of today. This article will give an overview of some of the main types of mining and how they differ from each other.

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The type of mining activity required to exploit a particular resource depends on a few key factors. First, the type of ore being excavated plays a key role in mine planning. Second, the location and position of the deposit should be carefully considered. Finally, the volume of ores available influences the type of mine to be used. Careful consideration of these factors during the planning phase will help mining companies ensure the economic viability of mines.

Surface mining

surface mining, surface mining

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Surface mining is the oldest form of resource exploitation. The main difference between surface mining today and mining carried out in ancient times is in the types of equipment used.

As some minerals exist on the surface or just below the ground, surface mining remains the most appropriate method to extract them. Surface mining is also referred to as surface mining.

Surface mining differs from other types of mining, such as underground mining, because it does not require the digging of deep shafts to access ores. Only the overburden needs to be removed. This is the material immediately above the coal seam or ore body. Overburden typically includes soil, rocks, and plant life, but it can be composed of any type of ecosystem.

Another key difference between surface mining and underground mining is the amount of labor required to extract mineral resources. Surface mines tend to be safer than underground mines because workers can more easily evacuate disaster sites. However, there is always a risk of the open pit (or borrow pit) collapsing due to unstable rock walls or the use of explosives, so surface pits should generally have sides in staircase, otherwise known as benches.

Surface mines require a significant amount of space and can damage fragile ecosystems and contaminate groundwater, facilitating the need for effective environmental assessments and remediation strategies.

underground mining

underground mining

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Some mineral deposits exist at depth, making it easy to use underground mines to recover them. Underground mining is inherently more dangerous than surface mining due to the deep location of the mines.

Underground mining is one of the most common mining methods used today.

The two main stages of underground mining are development (removal of unwanted and non-valuable rock and other components) and mining (excavation of the target resource).

Depending on the processes used to recover the resources, the extraction techniques and the type of pit, there are different categories of underground mining. Horizontal or vertical tunnels can be used, or a combination of both. Additionally, the type of mineral and the geology influence the type of underground mining used.

Prior to excavation of an underground mine, an examination of the coal seams or ore body should be used to determine the precise location of the deposit. This saves unnecessary labor and financial expense and helps mine planners select the optimal mining technique. In addition, effective mine planning helps to avoid cave-ins and other disasters that can endanger the lives of miners. Special equipment is required, especially if the tunnels are to be dug deep underground.

Underground mines, although more dangerous and technically difficult, do not have as large an environmental footprint as surface mines. However, assessments still need to be conducted on the surrounding geology of the deposit to avoid any risk of groundwater contamination.

In situ mining

leach mining, uranium

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In situ mining differs from underground and surface mining because it does not extract the mixture of ore and rock for processing at the surface of the mine. This type of operation is also called in situ leach mining.

In situ mining involves the use of chemical solutions to dissolve the minerals and pump the mother solution out of the mine for processing. This type of mining is commonly used for the recovery of uranium due to its solubility.

A key consideration in in situ mining operations is ensuring that the chemical leaching solution does not interact with the surrounding geology or potentially contaminate groundwater. In situ mining cannot be used for gold because it dissolves easily.

The minerals must be permeable to the chemicals used for the extraction. This requires evaluation of both the minerals and the chemical solution to ensure effective mixing and separation for processing. Specialized equipment should be used to help resist the harsh chemicals used to extract mineral deposits.

Placer mining

placer mining, sediments

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Placer mining exploits unconsolidated minerals mixed with sediments. Rinsing and sieving are commonly used to remove resources from blends.

Similar to gold panning, most placer mining operations are conducted in sandy areas and riverbeds where mineral deposits are found.

Resources typically recovered using this method include gold, gemstones, tin, titanium, and platinum.

Placer mining is a simple operation, but it requires extensive surveying of the target area to determine the amount of recoverable resources to ensure the economic viability of mining operations.

Some areas contain high concentrations of sediment, which can increase the amount of work required to recover mineral resources.

Other types of mining

Although these are the four main types of mining, many other mining methods can be used depending on the mineral deposit, location and volume of the deposit.

These include longwall mining, mountain top mining, dredging, high wall mining, block caving, cut and fill mining. and underground room-and-pillar mining.

References and further reading

Naytour (2022) 10 different types of mining and mining operations [online] Available at:

An Underground Miner (2021) The four main types of mining [online] Available at:

Cummins (2022) Types of mining methods [online] Available at:

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About William J. Harris

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