The amount of abandoned mine land needing reclamation has grown every year I have looked at it.
Between April 2015 and August 2017 the number of units of abandoned mine land in Missouri increased by 0.75% according to a federal database (e-AMLIS, 4/15/2015). The data is shown in Figure 1: 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 graphic for larger view.)
Mines create environmental hazards if efforts are not made to prevent it. The 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.
The federal government keeps an inventory of identified abandoned mine lands, the e-AMLIS Database. 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. The units of mine land in the statistics may refer to acres of spoiled land, number of unsafe structures, or lengths of unsafe highwall. You can’t translate directly from units to acres of land.
Figure 2 shows the location of abandoned mine lands in the e-AMLIS inventory in Missouri and in nearby regions of neighboring states. “Why,” a thoughtful reader might ask, “are these lands in southwestern and north-central Missouri? Isn’t the “lead belt” in southeastern Missouri?” Yes, of course it is. But these are surface lands, mostly from coal mining, and these are the locations where that kind of mining occurred.
Not all of Missouri’s abandoned mine lands have been inventoried, and I don’t know the status of the uninventoried land. Since the 1970s, mine operators have been required to restore mine land when mining operations cease. Compliance is enforced through a bonding system. Most of Missouri’s abandoned mine lands result from mines abandoned before the 1970s. 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. (Missouri Department of Natural Resources, 2016, p.2) Since 1970, when a mine operator abandons the land, they forfeit their bond, and the state uses that money, plus appropriations, to reclaim the land. The decline of mining in Missouri has resulted in lower bond holdings, reducing the money available for reclamation.
During FY 2016, Missouri completed reclamation of 40 acres of clogged stream land, 74 acres of dangerous piles, embankments, and highwalls, 35 polluted or hazardous water bodies, 1 acre of industrial waste, 45 acres of mine spoils, and part of a hazardous vertical opening, at a cost of $1,319,499. (Alton Field Division, 2017, Appendix 1, Part B, Tables 2 & 3)
Over the history of the reclamation program, 39% of the high priority units have been reclaimed (more on that in the next post), but an estimated $109,512,447 of reclamation work remains unfunded. At 2016’s rate of spending, it will be 83 years before the work is finished. The last time I looked at this data, in April 2015, the time to complete the work was 75 years. Mine reclamation is a costly, long-term project.
The law requires that abandoned coal mines be reclaimed before other abandoned mines, and it requires high priority lands be reclaimed before low priority lands. Priority 1 lands (those posing an extreme danger to public health and safety) and Priority 2 lands (those posing a threat to public health and safety) are high priority. Priority 3 lands (those involving the restoration of land previously degraded by mining) are low priority. More on high priority abandoned mine lands in the next post.
Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. e-AMLIS Database. I used the Advanced Query, State = Missouri, County = All, District = All, Priority = All, Problem Type = All, Program = All, Funding = All, Mining Type = All. https://amlis.osmre.gov/Default.aspx.
For the map, I used the e-AMLIS Database, and I used the mapping function, which allows a map for Missouri to be produced. I created the map 8/6/2017. https://amlis.osmre.gov/Default.aspx.
Alton Field Division, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. 2017. Annual Evaluation Report for the Regulatory Program and the Abandoned Mine Land Program Administered by the State Regulatory Authority of Missouri, for Evaluation Year 2016. U.S. Department of the Interior. Downloaded 8/3/2017 from https://dnr.mo.gov/geology/lrp/docs/16annualevaluationreport.pdf.
Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2016. 2014-2015 Land Reclamation Program Biennial Report. http://dnr.mo.gov/pubs.