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Abandoned Mine Lands 2019 – 2

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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.

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 a threat to public health and safety (Priority 2), and those that pose an extreme danger to public health and safety (Priority 1). The law requires Missouri to reclaim high priority lands before low priority lands.

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

Table 1 shows the data for September 2019, August 2017, April 2015, and April 2014. Completed units increased across each time, 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, before decreasing slightly between 2017 and 2019.

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 frederal 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. There may have been a change in the way units of highwall are counted that is not described in the database information, or Missouri could have inspected mine lands that had not been previously inspected, resulting in the discovery of additional dangerous highwall, or known highwall that was not dangerous may have become dangerous during the period.

Completed costs have also grown at each date, indicating the reclamation work that has been completed. Uncompleted costs, however, have grown even more quickly, from $14 million in 2014 $109 million in 2019 – they are almost 8 times what they were in 2014. I’m sure the change partially results from better estimates of what the costs will actually be, combined with inflation. Whether those factors account for the total change, I don’t know.

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

Figure 1 shows the number of Priority 1 and 2 units for Missouri and 4 neighboring states. Blue represents completed, and 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.

Figure 2 shows the estimated costs to reclaim Priority 1 and 2 sites for those same states. Blue represents completed work, red represents uncompleted. Because funding appears to be the most important factor limiting reclamation efforts, 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 a little bit more than 1/3 of the work required to reclaim its high priority sites. Arkansas has completed about 2/3, Illinois a bit more than 1/2, and Iowa not quite 1/2. Kansas, on the other hand, has completed about 6% of the work. They are just getting started.

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 $3.9 billion. West Virginia has the second most: $1.8 billion.

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

Figure 3 shows changes in the number of uncompleted units (blue) and uncompleted costs (red). Between 2015 and 2017, all 5 states experienced a small increase in the number of high priority units. Similarly, all but Kansas experienced an increase in estimated costs (inflation alone will cause about a 2% increase each year). Kansas experienced a small decrease. Why Illinois experienced such a large increase, I don’t know.

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. U.S. Department of the Interior. Downloaded 9/20/2019 from https://amlis.osmre.gov/QueryAdvanced.aspx.

For other abandoned mine land sources, see previous post.


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