Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Berkeley Pit Experience

Have you ever been to a place that is both beautiful and horrifying at the same time?  I have.  It is right down the highway from us.  It is one of the EPA's largest Superfund sites....a claim to fame that doesn't exactly make me swell with pride for our great state.  It is called the Berkeley Pit and it stands as legacy to Montana's mining past and as a painful reminder of the human ability to forever alter our environment on an unimaginably tremendous scale. 
Matt had never been there before so we thought it was worth the stop on our way to the Love Your Mother Earth Festival.  I mean, seriously, could we ask for a more vivid reminder to love our Mother Earth than this gaping hole in the earth, slowly filling with toxic water?  I certainly don't think so.  Maybe a clear-cut forest, maybe...
The pit is eerie for a variety of reasons.  It is so vast.  It is still and quiet, like a watery tomb, which in a way it is.  The water is red, like no water I've ever seen.  Red.  The sides of the pit are terraced layers of patchwork mountain stripped away, neatly, uniformly--at least from the observation platform--it probably doesn't look so neat up close.

You know that feeling you get when you are at the base of a mountain looking up and you feel humbled and awestruck by the majesty and immensity of the setting?  The Berkeley Pit is sort of like that only completely backwards, completely wrong.
The 900 foot deep pool of water is acidic and loaded with toxic chemicals and heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, copper, zinc, and lead--leftovers from the mining industry that Butte, and much of Montana, was built upon.  Apparently they are even still "mining" some metals from the water!  Crazy!  Makes you want to go for swim, no?

It has also become a morbid tourist attraction.  There are billboards near Butte boasting of its depth (1,600 feet deep!!) in an attempt to get people to stop and check it out.  I can only hope that it is an thought-provoking and humbling experience for all those that skip off the interstate to see it.  I feel there has to be an important lesson there.  There has to be.  If we cannot learn from our past, we are doomed.

Seeing the pit always gives me pause to think about how many of the things I use are derived from mining from the car Matt and I own to the computer on which I write this blog.  It is something we are all complicit in, often without consciously realizing it.  Mining is a foundational piece of our modern world something that I think is all too easily forgotten from a distance far removed from a mine.  Paying the pit a visit makes the connection unavoidable.  Mining isn't necessarily wrong, but this...THIS is.  I can't help but feel that if we all consumed less there wouldn't be as much need for such devastating metal and mineral extraction.  That if we all consumed less there would be fewer Berkeley Pits.  I don't base this on any particular research or articles.  I base it on my gut and my heart.  Consuming less has powerful implications both for yourself and the world.
I think the Berkeley Pit will be a test of the Superfund system of mitigating human-induced environmental disasters because it is so large and because it involves water--something so vital to our very lives.  The water level of the pit continues rise as it fills with rain water--some estimate as much as a foot a month.  Dealing with the clean up and preventing the contamination of ground water on this massive of a scale is an experimental process and a real test of the belief that technology can save us from the messes of our own creation.  Time, as usual, will tell.

3 comments:

  1. This looks terrible! I am so sorry there is a place like this!

    I have been to Ducktown, Tenn. where copper mines destroyed the land and left big gaping toxic holes in the landscape. Now it is a tourist attraction, too. Shocking!

    http://www.tnhistoryforkids.org/places/ducktown_basin

    ReplyDelete
  2. It is particularly morbid that it has its own observation deck! That mining practice is as bad as blowing the mountain tops off in Virginia....sad for us all. I had never heard of this place but will read up on it more.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh what a shocking thing to be happening. How come the owners haven't been made to clean it up by the government?
    What will happen if it overflows?
    I know we use the outcomes of mining in our everyday life but what alternative do we have, we have been indoctinated and brainwashed into thinking we need this stuff. But mining doesn't have to be so polluting.
    It needs cleaning up now!
    Insensed in Australia!
    Dayla

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas. I value the advice and friendship that you share with me!