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Missouri’s Hazardous Abandoned Mine Lands

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It is well known that mining can create environmental hazards if efforts are not made to prevent it. These hazards range from piles of material that can leach hazardous substances, to clogged streams, to polluted or hazardous water bodies, to vertical openings into which victims can fall, to dangerous walls, dams, and structures that can collapse and bury or inundate victims. Many of these dangers can be mitigated if a mine is operated properly.

Current law requires mine operators to restore mine land when mining operations cease. At the federal level, the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act was enacted in 1977. The federal authority that administers the law is called the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, and at the state level. In Missouri, the Land Reclamation Program of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources was established in 1974 by Chapter 444 of the revised statutes, Rights and Duties of Miners and Mine Owners.

The most recent report for Missouri by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement concerns the enforcement year from 7/1/10 to 6/30/11. The Missouri Land Reclamation Program issues biennial reports, the most recent one for the Missouri fiscal years 2008-2009.

Missouri CountiesMine operator compliance with reclamation efforts is enforced through a bonding system, where the bond is not released by the state until satisfactory reclamation is achieved. Some mine operators, however, choose to forfeit the bond rather than bear the expense of reclamation. When that occurs, the site becomes an abandoned mine. In addition, mandatory reclamation was not always the case. Thus, many states contain abandoned mine sites that have not been restored, and which are at risk of becoming significant environmental hazards. The Federal Government keeps an inventory of abandoned mine sites; funding to restore them comes from forfeited bonds and federal grants. Restoration of the total inventory is a decades-long effort.

The bulk of the inventory involves surface coal mines, though subsurface mines are included, and so are mines for other substances than coal. While Missouri does not have the extensive coal reserves of other states, it does have some that are economically attractive when coal prices are sufficiently high. In 2011, Missouri produced 465 thousand tons of coal, all from surface mines in Bates County (compared to 37.3 million tons in Illinois and 438.6 million tons in Wyoming). Approximately 67,000 acres in Missouri were affected by coal mining before the 1977 law. About 20,094 acres have been identified for reclamation. Missouri is 44.6 million acres in area, so the identified land represent only a tiny fraction of Missouri’s total land area, about 0.04% (4 acres for every 10,000). The current database of restoration projects contains sites in 41 counties. The map at right shows counties in pink that have identified abandoned mine lands. The sites arc from southwest of St. Louis, through northern Missouri, to the Kansas border north of Joplin. The densest cluster is along the Kansas border west of Lamar and Nevada.

Missouri Mine Lands by Statuse-AMLIS, the federal database, identifies 343,043 abandoned units in Missouri,  covering 20,094 acres (units are like projects – there can be several at one abandoned mine site). The total estimated cost of reclamation is $175,291,567. Some types of damaged lands are more expensive to reclaim than others, of course, but it works out to about $8,724 per acre, on average. Almost 1/3 of this work has been completed since 1977, and another $714,940 of work has been funded. The graphs at right show the data.

Funding levels probably determine the rate at which reclamation can occur. The database does not indicated if the funding is a single year of funding, but if it is, then at current funding levels, it would require 168 years to complete the work. If the funding represents multiple years of appropriations, then it would take even longer.

That seems like a long time, and it is. Keep in mind, however, that not all of the abandoned mine land represents an imminent hazard to people, flora, or fauna. Only a portion does, and the reclamation efforts seek to identify and reclaim first the lands that do represent an imminent hazard.

Measuring by cost to reclaim, the largest total inventory of abandoned mine land, including land already reclaimed, is located in Henry County. In terms of land yet to be funded for remediation, the largest amount is in Barton County. The largest amount of acreage  is in Callaway County, and the largest amount of acreage not yet funded for reclamation is in Henry County.

In my next post, I’ll put this data in a little context by comparing it to data from some other states.

Sources:

Annual Evaluation Report for the Regulatory and Abandoned Mine Land Programs Administered by the State of Missouri for Evaluation Year 2011, July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Alton Field Division, http://www.osmre.gov/topic/Oversight/SCM/SCM.shtm.

2008 and 2009 Biennial Report, Missouri Department of Natural Resources Land Reclamation Program, http://www.dnr.mo.gov/env/lrp/index.html.

Coal production in 2011 is from Table 2. Coal production and number of mines by State, County, and mine type, 2011, http://www.eia.gov/coal/annual.

Abandoned mine land statistics are from the Abandoned Mine Land Inventory System (e-AMLIS) database. It is maintained by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement of the Department of the Interior, http://www.osmre.gov/aml/AML.shtm.

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