Remember that massive mining complex from the Lord of the Rings called Moria (aka the Dwarrowdelf, aka Khazad-dûm?) Neither did I - over the last few years, my recollection of All Things Tolkien had been slipping into shadow (heh heh heh), but this little refresher from Wikipedia piqued my interest. As it turns out, our Once And Future Dwarf Kings have a lot in common with a certain timely enviro-political situation.Here's the historical broadax strokes - basically there's this mongo mountain range that's chock full of this extremely valuable natural resource called mithril. This mithril is stronger than steel, hammers like copper, and polishes like glass, so not only is it pretty handy but it's so cool that you have to write it in italics. It's also extremely rare, only existing in this one particular mountain range.
Ok, so the dwarf leadership catches wind of this fantastic lode and they decide to get their greedy little hands on it. I suppose they had a variety of options at the time - buy the mountain from its rightful owner, lease-hold, acquire the mineral rights - but they went for slaughtering the local orcs (admittedly, a nasty bunch) by the barrow-load, and after that they moved right in.
Now it was time to develop the the mithril. Skills were not the issue - these dwarves are the best miners and metal-workers in the world - so what would be the sustainable course of action? Mine it carefully bit by bit, use the metal only for objects with no reasonable substitute, keep the price high and make it last a long time? Hell no, they start going whole hog, fast and furious like, immediately digging as fast and as deep as they possibly can, then turning the precious resource into all sorts of cockamamie items like mithril-lined bathtubs and mithril-plated salad shooters. Why the craziness? Well, I believe Tolkien mentions somewhere (in the Simarillion perhaps?) that the whispered mantra at the time was 'dig,dig,dig'; this was was probably nothing more than a slogan put out by the Top Beards to dangle cognitively dissonant dreams of riches and comfort to the poor saggy-whiskers who were actually wielding the mattocks.
The millennium wanders on, and a good many dwarves get sickeningly rich. Things were going great until one of the underlings sticks a pickax into a Balrog's behind; this demonic "Flame of Udun" (whatever!) promptly caused a whole variety of problems, among them literal dismemberment of the leadership crew and making Khazad-dûm generally uninhabitable for the next few thousand years.
Moria sits abandoned for a good long while until Balin, an ex-war hero from that Smaug escapade, gets it into his skull that he's going to go back into Moria, clean up the 'rog problem, and tap out the rest of the mithril. It's a plan; but it might have been better if Balin did a little research and realized that at this point the mithril is nearly gone, the risk/reward ratio is high, 'dig, dig, dig' is getting old, and his potential followers are more worried about the Balrog than reliving the glory days of Happy Digging. Long story short, he's just not ready for the job.