The number of acres of abandoned mine land in Missouri increased by 1.44% between 2013 and 2014, according to a federal database. Reclamation on 97 acres was completed, but despite these efforts, the acreage of unfunded land awaiting reclamation increased by almost 1%. The data is shown in the charts at right: blue represents land on which reclamation has been completed, red represents land funded for reclamation but not completed, and green represents land awaiting funding for reclamation.
(Click on chart for larger view.)
Mines create environmental hazards if efforts are not made to prevent it. They 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.
Since the 1970s, mine operators have been required to restore mine land when mining operations cease. Compliance is enforced through a bonding system. Some operators, however, choose to forfeit the bond rather than perform the reclamation. When that occurs, the site becomes an abandoned mine. In addition, many mines were abandoned before the 1970s. Thus, many states contain abandoned mines that have not been restored. The Missouri Land Reclamation Authority estimates that as many as 107,000 acres of mine lands have been abandoned in Missouri, about 0.2% of the entire state.
The federal government keeps an inventory of identified abandoned mine lands, the e-AMLIS Database. The first set of charts at right show the number of abandoned mine land units in Missouri, the number of acres involved, and the estimated cost to reclaim the land. There can be several units at one abandoned mine site. For instance, one might be a pile of tailings, another might be an abandoned building, and a third might be a highwall.
Notice first that the total acreage catalogued in the database is about 1/5 of the total acreage estimated by the Missouri Land Reclamation Authority. The other 4/5 doesn’t even make it into the inventory, and I don’t know its status. If you do, why not post a comment sharing what you know?
Between February 2013 and April 2014 reclamation was completed on 4,902 units, covering 97.09 acres, at a cost of about $1.7 million. As of April, 2014, 2,102 units were funded for reclamation, covering 150.3 acres, at a cost of $932,900. But despite these efforts, the number of unfunded units increased by 2,582.2, and the number of unfunded acres increased by 289.4. Oddly, the estimated cost to reclaim the unfunded land decreased by $504,318, I’m not sure why.
The map at right shows the location of the sites in the database. They run in an arc from south of St. Louis, into Northern Missouri, to the southwestern corner of Missouri. The highest concentration is along the border with Kansas and Oklahoma. The map also includes portions of several other states for comparison.
Funding is most likely the limiting factor on how fast the land can be reclaimed. But funding varies from year-to-year, and the data provide three different amounts that could be used as estimates of average yearly funding: the funding in 2013, the funding in 2014, and the amount that completed funding increased between the two dates. Using an average of the 2013 and 2014 funding, one can calculate that it will take 145 years to work through the unfunded inventory. The calculation assumes that funding will remain constant and that remediation costs will not change.
It 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 I will discuss these most hazardous abandoned mine lands in the next post.
Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2013. 2010-2011 Land Reclamation Program Biennial Report. Publication 2473. MODNR Home Page » Publications » 2010 and 2011 Biennial Report. http://dnr.mo.gov/pubs/pub2473.pdf
Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. Abandoned Mine Land Inventory System (e-AMLIS). OSMRE Home Page » Programs »e-AMLIS. http://www.osmre.gov/programs/amlis.shtm.