Inevitably, we will be colonizing and impacting other planetary bodies, whether for establishing life or drilling/mining.

Today, you can expect on Earth there will be environmental requirements for development in both Western and many under-developed countries. The EU and UN require SEAs, the US requires Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA's). The United Arab Emirates (an oil-based, rapidly developing country), for example, requires both SEAs and Cultural Reviews before extraction or development.

What could be a similar requirement in my story, from somewhat responsible colonizing or extractive collective moving into mining and colonizing operations. I realize this is purely speculative for the next 100 years.

I'd like the focus to be on considerations for the extraction of resources from bodies in this solar system, outside of Earth. And then later, I will be drafting a brief of the environmental agreement for my short novel.

  • $\begingroup$ Considering that there's no significant concern that life exists in this soar system outside from earth (and by the time we're looking to send miners we would have figured it out if there WAS) I don't think environmental regulation is a factor within this solar system outside of earth. $\endgroup$ May 29, 2015 at 8:42
  • $\begingroup$ @IsaacKotlicky from the perspective of a responsible group, most certainly geology and existing conditions, opportunities and constrations should be considered. I'm looking for a good chapter or two about how these might considered. $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    May 31, 2015 at 3:00

4 Answers 4


Australian mining engineer here. Australia has government mandated environmental reports, rehabilitation requirements, aboriginal archeological surveying and protection, indigenous community negotiations and employment and industry standards (like the JORC code) for reporting to the market.

Presently there is no government with jurisdiction outside of Earth, but we can still expect some industry standards and corporate policies to be in place.

Number one is a standardised system of ore reserving (Google JORC Code for examples). If you are mining asteroids, for instance, investors need a minimum level of confidence in the geological knowledge and technical and economic challenges of retrieving the ore. Exploration drilling provides the initial information that gives investors the confidence to back your mining project.

Before drilling you will have to define a lease boundary (ie. Asteroid 52B) and establish your theoretical legal right to mine. Even if there is no government regulation, your legal team will still want the papers ready for the inevitable legal challenge. Example: Some government might try to nationalise your company, or a competitor may infringe on your lease.

Environmental and cultural obligations will grow out of the first landmark court cases. For instance, the moon is a sacred heritage site to all humans. There will undoubtedly be a ruling that no mining activities shall be visible to the naked eye on Earth. Expect to see that tick box in a report somewhere - worth noting simply for the sheer bureaucratic absurdity of ticking it off for every comet in the Oort.

As for bio-contamination and extra-terrestrial life... short answer is, no one will take it seriously. The long answer is that space is BIG, and no one is going to send Mines Inspectors halfway across the solar system to check whether there are green tree frogs on Ceres. You pretty much have your bases covered by randomly sampling the exploration cores for microbes, and leaving a webcam running to detect little green men. This will be included in your quarterly Environmental Disturbance Report.

Lastly, send non-confidential geoscience reports to NASA or some other industry body. Even though this might not be legally necessary, most long-sighted mining companies recognise the advantages of teaming up with academia for research and development purposes.

Never underestimate the amount of bureaucracy committed to corporate CYA, especially if the laws haven't been written yet.

Edit: if you are re-routing asteroids, add in a mandatory Orbit Change Request. It is both a traffic hazard and planetary impact threat.


If you're talking about environmental impact on other planetary bodies, they would be whatever the heck the colonizers wanted them to be. That's the beauty of being a colonist, you pretty much get to make up the rules as you go.

The exception is when you're colonizing on behalf of a sovereign, in which case the environmental laws would likely carry over from whomever colonized the new planet. If Canada were to colonize a moon, then they would likely enforce their laws in their colony. There may be some flex depending on the ecology of wherever they're mining. If they're mining an asteroid that doesn't support life, then they won't have to worry about disturbing the ecology, so pretty much anything goes, mine the whole thing until there's nothing left. But, if they start an operation on a planet with life, they will likely send engineers and scientists to study the ecology and determine how to extract the minerals while leaving a minimal ecological footprint.

In a future society, you could make up any regulation that you want, but based on the trend the rising generation is setting, I think that future environmental regulations will likely be painfully strict.


I believe that there will be similiar situation that our history shows.

First of all, I would see that first benefactor from mining/exploiting 'new-natural' resources would be military. Before any ecologist would say anything, our space missions would haul some amounts of rock/minerals/living species home. These will be gathered by scientists to make research and developement, but with disregard to newly colonized world.
Later on, precautions will be made to secure excavations/plants/aliens(?) from simple safety matters. Next, some sponsored mining missions would take place and IN THE END people would start to measure impacts and take into account something we may name 'ecology'.
Let us just recall how it was on Earth in the past - do-first, then-think. I agree with ShemSeger, that the country that will send an expedition would be responsible for setting laws with pattern from home world, but our sad history shows, that income goes first.


The main issue with space exploration would be biological contamination. That must be controlled from before the first landing.

The process would be like:

  • Sterile first landings: Organizations wanting to land in a planetary body must ensure that the material they send to the surface of the planet is properly sterilized (in both ways, you do not want bring anything back to Earth).

  • Assesment of life existence: Either it is mandatory from first contact, or can be delayed until it is clear that there is interest in further development of the body. Several teams of scientifics will sample the planet for signs of life.

If there is life, human activities will be heavily limited. Probably, the only activities allowed would be:

  • Research.

  • Mining/Industry, but only if there is some resource available there for which there is no alternative source.

All of the above with restrictions ensuring that no foreign materials are released into the wild.

If there is no life, then it will depend of the resources/quality of the body.

A planet with no atmosphere (or a toxic one) would usually have no restriction of what gases you may release (since you will need a space suit to get outside), but if there is a breathable atmosphere you will forbid anything that could make it unhealthy.

That would vary with the availability of resources. Maybe the atmosphere is not breathable, but there are lakes of methane that you use to power your colony/export; and you do not want anyone pumping, say, chlorates in them (which would damage people and/or machinery when the methane is burnt).


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