Open-pit, open-cast or open cut mining is a surface mining technique of extracting rock or minerals from the earth by their removal from an open pit or borrow.
This form of mining differs from extractive methods that require tunneling into the earth, such as long wall mining. Open-pit mines are used when deposits of commercially useful ore or rocks are found near the surface; that is, where the overburden (surface material covering the valuable deposit) is relatively thin or the material of interest is structurally unsuitable for tunnelling (as would be the case for sand, cinder, and gravel). For minerals that occur deep below the surface — where the overburden is thick or the mineral occurs as veins in hard rock — underground mining methods are used to extract the valued material.
Open-pit mines that produce building materials and dimension stone are commonly referred to as “quarries.”
Open-pit mines are typically enlarged until either the mineral resource is exhausted, or an increasing ratio of overburden to ore makes further mining uneconomic. When this occurs, the exhausted mines are sometimes converted to landfills for disposal of solid wastes. However, some form of water control is usually required to keep the mine pit from becoming a lake, if the mine is situated in a climate of considerable precipitation or if any layers of the pit forming the mine border productive aquifers.