Some thinkers today associate sustainability with low land use. Mining uses small amounts of land area compared to agriculture. For example, in the United States, agriculture uses 52% of land area whereas mining disturbs 0.02-0.1% of land. In Canada, 0.01% of land has been used for mining compared with about 8% of land used for agriculture.
In Quebec, there are currently 22 active mines occupy 90 km2 or 0.005% of the surface area of the Province of Quebec. Exploration claims cover 5.7% of the Province. In September 2013, there were 205,191 active exploration claims. A claim is not a mine, merely an area under exploration. The surface area affected by all past mining represents 0.03% of the Province of Quebec. This means that 99.95% of the surface of Quebec has never been impacted by mining activity. Compare this to approximately 3% of the Province that is under permanent agriculture and that approximately 0.2% of the Province is logged EVERY YEAR!
In Canada's western province of British Colombia about 200,000 hectares, or 0.2% of total land, is logged per year. This figure means that logging disturbs more than 10% the area per year that mining has ever disturbed.
In Peru, although 12% of the total land is under mining concessions, only 0.08% of the country’s total land is disturbed by mining. Similarly, in Australia mining sites have disturbed less than 0.26% of total land mass over the country's entire history.
Large areas need to be explored in order to find mines as the odds of any prospect being a mine are very low. About 1 in 5,000 exploration projects will ever become mines. Nevertheless, in Mexico for example, the fact that exploration concessions cover about 30% of the country is often raised as a point of concern. Such concern is based on a lack of understanding of the mineral exploration and development process. Explorationists and prospectors tend to "stake" claims that cover big areas to ensure that their ideas are protected, but only a small portion of the claims will ever be physically explored. More importantly, only a tiny fraction will ever be impacted by mining.
The total amount of water used by
mining is difficult to estimate since water is recycled, gained and lost
through subsurface flows, lost through evaporation, and discharged after
treatment. However in Australia a continent known for its droughts and generally
dry climate, the mining sector uses less than 3% of national consumptive water. Similarly in Mexico, mining usage makes up about 3.5% (about half of total industrial use) of the total water consumption. This compares to about 68% for agriculture and 20% used for drinking water.