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High Priority Abandoned Mine Lands Spike in 2017

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The amount of dangerous highwall in Missouri spiked in 2017, leading to a large increase in uncompleted high priority abandoned mine units needing reclamation.


Table 1. Data source: Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

The previous post concerned the total inventory of abandoned mine lands in Missouri. This post focuses on high priority abandoned mine lands: those that pose an extreme danger to public health and safety (Priority 1) and those that pose a threat to public health and safety (Priority 2). The law requires Missouri to reclaim high priority lands before low priority lands.

Table 1 shows the data for August 2017, April 2015, and April 2014. Completed units increased across all three dates, as one would want. However, uncompleted units grew between 2014 and 2015, and then spiked between 2015 and 2017 by 384%. This resulted in a similar pattern for total units: they increased between 2014 and 2015, and spiked between 2015 and 2017.

Reviewing the categories of hazards (not shown), most categories increased modestly between 2015 and 2017. However, units of dangerous highwall increased from 11,350 to 160,924. There are several possible reasons for such a drastic change. I cut and paste my data from the database, and I have made several checks with the e-AMLIS database to ensure I did not make an error, and I don’t think I did. However, there may be a data entry error in the online database itself. Alternatively there may have been a change in the way units of highwall are counted that is not described in the database information. Missouri could have inspected mine lands that had not been previously inspected, resulting in the discovery of additional dangerous highwall. Finally, known highwall that was not unstable may have become unstable during the period.

Figure 1. Data source: Office of Surface Mining Restoration and Enforcement.

Completed costs have also grown at each date, indicating the reclamation work that has been completed. Uncompleted costs, however, have grown even more quickly, and in 2017 they were more than 6 times what they were in 2014. This is unlikely to be a data error; more likely, it represents an improved estimate of what the costs will actually be, combined with inflation.

The Figure 1 shows the number of Priority 1 and 2 units for Missouri and 5 neighboring states. Blue represents completed reclamation, red represents uncompleted. Don’t forget that a unit can be acres of spoiled land, individual buildings or structures, hazardous bodies of water, vertical openings, or lengths of dangerous highwall, so one cannot directly translate number of units to environmental threat or cost to reclaim.

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Figure 2. Data source: Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

The Figure 2 shows the estimated costs to reclaim Priority 1 and 2 sites for those same states. Blue represents completed work, red represents uncompleted. This chart may be a more informative representation of the amount of work accomplished so far, and the amount yet to do. It shows that in terms of costs, Missouri has completed about 1/3 of the work required to reclaim its high priority sites. Arkansas has completed more than 2/3, Illinois not quite 1/2, and Iowa not quite 1/2. Kentucky, a big coal mining state, has had a larger reclamation challenge, but even they have completed more than half of the work. Kansas, on the other hand, has completed about 1/17 of the work. They are just getting started. (e-AMLIS Database, 2015)

Pennsylvania is the state with the largest amount of abandoned mine land, and the state with the largest reclamation challenge. They have more than 10 times as many Priority 1 and 2 units as does Missouri, and the estimated cost to reclaim them is $4.8 billion, some 29 times as much as Missouri’s cost. (e-AMLIS Database, 2015)

Figure 3. Data source: Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

The Figure 3 shows changes in the number of uncompleted units and uncompleted costs. Changes in Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, and Kentucky were small. The large changes in Missouri have been discussed above. Kansas had small increase in the number of units, but a large increase in costs. As in Missouri, my guess is that the change represents improved estimation of the costs involved plus inflation.

In my next post, I will report on some other interesting facts in the most recent reports on abandoned mine lands.

Sources:

Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. e-AMLIS Database. I used the Summary, and selected State/Tribe = Missouri. https://amlis.osmre.gov/Default.aspx.

For other abandoned mine land sources, see previous post.

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