November 13, 2019

Vantage Point

Frederick H. Turner, Issue Editor

Robert Macfarlane’s new book Underland: A Deep Time Journey (2019) takes readers on an extraordinary tour of the world beneath our feet. Stops on Macfarlane’s subterranean and submarine tour include a cave that served as a burial site, a mine used as a source of potash and a location to study the universe’s dark matter, an underground city, and an offshore oilfield on the continental shelf. Macfarlane acknowledges that there are “many reasons we tend to turn away from what lies beneath.” But, he argues, “now more than ever we need to understand the underland” and “see more deeply.”

This issue of Natural Resources & Environment also takes readers on a journey “underland” by exploring terrestrial and ocean mining from a legal perspective. Our goal is to broaden the perspective of practitioners and scholars regarding what lies below our planet’s surface. The feature articles respond to the call to “see more deeply” in two ways. First, authors look into the deep by examining the physical and ecological aspects of mines that are often overlooked as we focus on the earth’s air, water, forests, farms, cities, and mountains. Second, the articles encourage a more in-depth understanding by offering fresh insights into legal issues and regulatory regimes that govern human approaches to exploring, mining, and reclaiming the underland.

We begin our journey at the bottom of the ocean with an exploration of the regulatory and technological challenges of mining submarine deposits of metal sulfides. We then come ashore for two articles that offer insights on terrestrial mining from a regional perspective. The first examines tribal opposition to mining in the upper Midwest; the second explores the regulatory landscape for addressing the produced water that emerges during the extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale plays in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Returning to the ocean, we are invited to consider the establishment of a regulatory framework for deep seabed mining that incorporates aspects of the Clean Water Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Next, two authors present a new approach to the regulation of mining—specifically, using ecological augmentation to address mining contamination under Superfund.

Our final oceanic stop takes us to the Arctic to consider emerging legal issues related to seabed resources on the continental shelf and the region beyond national jurisdiction as well as the role of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Continuing the move to an international perspective, two authors note the absence of international law as they examine domestic regulations governing the closure of underground gas storage facilities in three European countries. We travel back across the Atlantic to consider lessons learned from the Brumadinho Mining Disaster in Brazil and contemplate what will happen to the remains of fracking that are stored in waste impoundments. Finally, a trio of writers explores new technologies that can be brought to bear on revegetation at reclaimed mining sites.

If this issue of Natural Resources & Environment achieves its goal, it will have provided readers with a guidebook for looking into the deep and for understanding the legal contours of the mining landscape and seascape.

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Frederick H. Turner, Issue Editor

Mr. Turner is an attorney in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and a member of the editorial board of Natural Resources & Environment. He may be reached at fredturner@gmail.com. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Justice or the United States.