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Abandoned Mine Lands 2019-1

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The amount of abandoned mine land needing reclamation has grown every year I have looked at it.

Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation e-AMLIS data system.

Despite reclamation efforts, between August 2017, and September 2019, the number of units of abandoned mine land in Missouri increased by 0.88% according to a federal database (e-AMLIS). The data is shown in Figure 1: the top chart is for the number of units of mine land that need to be reclaimed, the center chart is for the number of acres that need to be reclaimed, and the bottom chart is for the costs to reclaim them. 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 linear lengths of unsafe highwall. You can’t translate directly from units to acres of land, but for reporting purposes, the government does make the conversion (called GPRA), and this is what I’m reporting as acres.

Figure 2. Source: Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation, e-AMLIS data system.

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.

These statistics apply only to abandoned mine land that has been inventoried. 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 law took effect. 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. Since 1970, when a mine operator abandons the land, they forfeit their bond, and the state uses that money, plus appropriations and grants from the federal government, to reclaim the land. The decline of mining in Missouri has resulted in lower bond holdings, reducing the money available for reclamation.

During FY 2017, Missouri reclaimed 1.7 acres of dangerous piles or embankments, 1,099 linear feet of dangerous highwall, and 30 acres of polluted or hazardous water bodies. Over the history of the reclamation program, 37% of the high priority units have been reclaimed (more on that in the next post), but an estimated $107,509,643 of reclamation work remains unfunded. At 2017’s rate of funding, it will be 73 years before the work is finished. The last time I looked at this data, in August 2017, the time to complete the work was 83 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 that 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.

Sources:

Historical data for this post came from previous posts on this topic. For the most recent, see here. Current data came from published reports and a federal database. The majority of the most recent data and the map were downloaded from:

Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. Abandoned Mine Land Inventory System (e_AMLIS). Data downloaded 9/17/2019 from https://amlis.osmre.gov/QueryAdvanced.aspx.

Additional current data plus historical information and descriptions of the program were obtained from:

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 2017. U.S. Department of the Interior. Downloaded 9/18/2019 from https://www.odocs.osmre.gov.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Undated. 2015–2016 Land Reclamation Program Biennial Report. https://dnr.mo.gov/pubs/documents/pub2726.pdf.


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