Butte’s Berkeley Pit: Violating Life on Earth

Abandoned and Deadly: The Open Pit Lives on

1973, Butte's Berkeley Pit photo by Harvey Richards

1973, Butte’s Berkeley Pit photo by Harvey Richards

Harvey Richards went to Butte, Montana to photograph the miner’s strike of 1959.  He returned in 1966 and 1973 photographing the huge gaping hole known as the Berkeley Pit (operated from 1955 to 1982) that was sinking ever deeper into the earth, dwarfing the city of Butte.  Open pit mining provides the most dramatic and visual example of the disaster that unbridled free enterprise is perpetrating upon the earth and the future of mankind.  The scale of an open pit mine is hard to imagine. It is a scale of destruction that must be seen to be believed. And it promises nothing good.

People might wonder, “So what is so bad about digging a big hole?  Doesn’t it provide jobs and metals for industry? It is a sacrifice that must be made for ‘our way of life.’  Inevitable.  Nothing can be done.  Oh, well.”

The complacency and ignorance that brings forth these kinds of sentiments perpetuate the idea that we can do whatever we want to the earth if it contributes to human societies.  Indeed, that is the philosophy that rules today and historically.  The open pit mine is one result.  The legacy that this philosophy and ‘way of life’ is leaving future generations is grim and getting grimmer with each new “miracle” of science bought up and implemented by free enterprise corporations. Harvey Richards looked this harsh reality in the face and left us images of it that challenge us to reconsider the assumptions and philosophy that has led us to this point. We ignore this reality at our own peril.

Butte Berkeley Pit Google Earth 2014

Butte Berkeley Pit Google Earth 2014

“When the pit was closed, the water pumps in the nearby Kelly shaft, at a depth of 3,800 feet, were turned off, and groundwater from the surrounding aquifers began to slowly fill the pit, rising at about the rate of one foot a month.[1] Since the pit closure on Earth Day 1982, the level has risen to within 150 feet of the natural groundwater level.The pit and its water present a serious environmental problem because the water, with dissolved oxygen, allows pyrite and sulfide minerals in the ore and wall rocks to decay, releasing acid. When the pit water level eventually reaches the natural water table, estimated to occur by around 2020, the pit water will reverse flow back into surrounding groundwater, polluting into Silver Bow Creek which is the headwaters of Clark Fork River.[1] The acidic water in the pit carries a heavy load of dissolved heavy metals….  The Berkeley Pit has since become one of the largest Superfund sites.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berkeley_Pit


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