(Photo: Virginia Tech Dept. of Geography)
Revision: December 2006
Author: Jack Caldwell
Here are some quotable quotes from Issue 2 2006 of Reclamation Matters, the journal of the American Society of Mining and Reclamation.
BLM Mined Land Reclamation
comprehensive manual on mine reclamation is probably a pipe dream. The topic is too large and multi-disciplinary
to get all the information in one volume.
Maybe an encyclopedia is required.
But paper books would soon be out of date. Only an e-publication could potentially
succeed. Neither the volume discussed
here, nor this piece goes any way towards achieving the ideal of an
all-encompassing tome on mine reclamation.
But the volume I chanced on trawling the net is worth examining if you
are interested in the basic principles of mine reclamation, particularly in the
western parts of the
refer to the e-publication Draft Solid Minerals Reclamation Handbook (2001) put
out by the United State Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The purpose of the manual is “to provide
consistent guidelines and performance standards for reclamation of and closure
of non-coal solid mineral activities on Federal and
The manual spends time on the authority and administrative procedures to follow in reclaiming mine-disturbed lands—these may be relevant if you have a mine that falls within the purview of the BLM. If your mine is not regulated by BLM, you can skip these sections and proceed apace to the sections on reclamation of site access, surface water management, groundwater protection, pit lakes, waste dump design, covers, leachate and acid rock drainage treatment, pit backfill, underground closure, radionuclide reclamation, and revegetation.
To give you some idea of the tone and treatment of topics in the manual, I quote the following on pit backfill.
“Where feasible, backfilling of pits should be considered as an element of reclamation. Advantages of backfilling include improved visual resources and public safety, increased post-mining land productivity, and, in some cases, the elimination of dangerous and/or potentially toxic pit lakes. Where pits are not backfilled, the operator should present adequate documentation to show that backfilling is not feasible, including discussion of the options that allow independent evaluation of the decision not to backfill. Where backfilling is not performed, consideration should be given to highwall modification to enhance wildlife habitat. In addition, large pits require safety berming and fencing, which require perpetual maintenance and may not adequately deter access by humans and wildlife.”
The manual reminds us that NEPA EISs may be required. It may be argued that the following constitute ARARs to any mine EIS. I quote again from the manual.
“NEPA evaluation of backfilling option should include consideration of the following:
Alternatives to conventional pit backfilling include:
I enjoyed and learnt a bit from the long section on underground mine closure—seems as though it was written by an erudite author, or at least one with practical experience. A good number of interesting guidelines and issues raised in that chapter.
I would leave aside the chapter dealing with uranium mine close; better see the NRC documents on this issue.
recent report (June 2006) makes fascinating reading and instructive
reporting. I refer to the Reclamation
Feasibility Report Henson Creek Watershed (June 2006) put out by
the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Division of Minerals and Geology.
The report was prepared as part of an evaluation of the impact of drainage from
mines in the Henson Creek watershed and the potential impact of mine drainage
Both natural and mining related metal loadings affect water quality in Henson Creek. The report describes work done to quantify the contribution by natural and mining sources. Total zinc and manganese were chosen as the indicator metals. Reasons include the presence of zinc and manganese in the adit drainage of all the mines surveyed, the correlation of zinc and manganese with other heavy metals of concern, and because of the “conservative” nature of these metals.
The report concludes: a maximum of 35 percent of the zinc load in Hanson Creek is from mining waste; six percent of the zinc is from adits; a maximum of three percent of the manganese in Hanson Creek is from mining wastes; and 30 percent of the manganese is from adits. The report concludes that the majority of the metal loading is therefore from natural sources.
To address the mining-related contributions, the report makes recommendations for each site. Seven of the 23 sites surveyed are recommended for no action at this time, thirteen waste rock piles are recommended for reclamation, five of the 23 sites are recommended for adit discharge reclamation, seven for further investigation. Here are some of the specific recommendations that caught my attention:
A good story with a happy ending; a testimony to what can be achieved; congratulations. These positive thoughts came to mind when I saw this piece on the wire this morning. I quote: “Meridian Gold Inc is pleased to announce that the Company's past producing Beartrack Mine has been selected to receive two awards for the Company's excellence in its reclamation process in Salmon, Idaho. The Bureau of Land Management's 2006 Hardrock Mineral Environmental Award recognizes effective environmental stewardship. Meridian Beartrack was chosen due to the Company's demonstrated track record of successfully meeting or exceeding federal, state or local reclamation requirements with minimal oversight.”
I have been to
the mine, and have
previously written this: The most
beautiful mine in the
At 7,000 feet
in the crystal air and cold sun, the mill and the process plant glisten. Inside
is that chaos and cornucopia of metal, fluid, and noise. Calmly presiding over
all this is Adam Whitman, a thirty-something metallurgical engineer. He has a
degree in metallurgical engineering and a master of business management (MBA)
from Montana Tech. He lives in a Victorian house and leaves the quiet of the
town for corporate deliberations in
Here is his
description of his work and objectives (his words): Combining desired
efficiencies for low-cost production, managing persons from both a higher and
lower management status, reaching compromise between the goals of the budget
and operational desires, understanding, overseeing, and interpreting laboratory
analysis to meet or improve upon desired cost, extraction, or regulatory
compliance goals. Uncompromising compliance with environmental laws and safety,
while pursuing production needs. My job is much more than
His technicians are a happy group. They willingly help me dig test pits, collect soil samples, ship drums of rock to out-of-state laboratories, plot contours on computers, collate reports, and find something to eat because I forgot to bring a lunch-pack. They take time off from their regular jobs of adjusting the mill and process equipment, replacing warn parts, dealing with vendors, and maintaining security systems in the lonely hills. You can see why the mine deserves its award.
I have met and
been honored to work with other from
Edgar Smith: His intense energy and penetrating questions have left me gasping for facts and figures to support recommendations, but I have always felt like a professional in working with him. He appears to have a talent for focusing on the key issue and driving forward to a solution. Rather than write more, I asked him to explain how he got involved in Beartrack and what his vision is for the long-term future of the site.
To conclude: I am guilty of association with
“What other abandoned mined land site can boast of being an operating landfill, a growing community recreational center, the site of a world championship racing event, and the site of an NCAA Championship event? The reclaimed Victory Mine Site was once a barren and eroded abandoned mine refuse area that created sedimentation and acid mine drainage problems into an adjacent stream. The site was also used as a trash disposal area for years and an open mine entry presented a hazard to human safety. Today the site is a major community recreation area and the location for local, national, and world sports events. The site has come a long way in the last few years and the story is remarkable.”
Thus begins the submission of reclamation of the Victory Mine for the Indiana Abandoned Mine Reclamation Award for 2003. I do not know if this mine site reclamation won in 2003, but I do know that it is worth reading the submission for indeed “the story is remarkable.” The submission provides the details of the site’s use and abuse over the years during which coal was mined, the mined out area used for waste disposal, and the area allowed to erode and contaminate streams. Then reclamation work was put in place and today the area is, as noted in the paragraph quoted above, and area used and enjoyed by the community. I leave you to read the details; the text and photos will reward your time.
A useful checklist of
items to consider when estimating the cost of closure of a mine is provided by
Items listed include:
If ever proof were needed that a mine closure plan is needed and that this plan should include some form of post-closure care, the following story provides it. This is from the EPA:
progress toward cleaning up the Ringwood Mines and protecting the surrounding
community, EPA today restored the Ringwood Mines/Landfill site in
“I made a
commitment to the community that this site would be put back on the Superfund
list, and this is the last step in that process,” said Regional Administrator
Alan J. Steinberg. “Thanks to EPA Administrator Steve Johnson this site got the
highest level of attention and we were able to get it restored to the list
quickly. While cleanup work has been progressing all along, now that this is an
official Superfund site, the community can apply for grant funds to obtain
EPA is currently overseeing several investigations at the site and the continuing removal of paint sludge. These investigations will help to identify additional areas of contamination that may not be visible from the surface as well as ground water sampling in various parts of the site. The goal of these investigations is to better understand the nature and extent of the contamination at the site to make sure all potential sources are addressed.
Mines/Landfill site is located in an historic iron mining district in
one of every ten people in
· Construct a mine drainage treatment facility to treat upto 1,000 gallons per minute of acidic discharge from long-abandoned underground mines.
· Replace the community baseball fields currently on the site with a modern multi-sport recreation facility to be built on approximately 10 acres of abandoned mine land closer to the community and donated by the responsible mining company.
volume is the best primer on Mine Reclamation I have yet come across: The
Practical Guide to Reclamation in Utah. I can find no date on the
e-file at the link; the guide talks of “at the start of the new millennium” and
the latest reference date is 1998, so maybe it comes from the early
2000’s. Regardless of when it was
written, it should be your first stop on a tour of mine reclamation reading,
even if your mine is not in
With over 160 pages of well-written, clear and logical text, this guide covers mine-reclamation topics including: shaping the land--visual considerations; reclaiming waterways—drainage reclamation and streambank bioengineering; handling soils; and revegetation. And that is just Part 1 of the guide. Part 2 includes fifteen Technique Sheets that provide practical guidelines to reclamation activities including: surface roughening; erosion control; check dams; and sediment ponds.
Here are some observations from the guide that caught my attention:
And so on. I cannot possibly do the guide total justice, so if the topic interests you, download it, read it, enjoy it, and implement it.
is a valuable reference if you mine in
refer to the 2005
are some 17,000 to 20,000 abandoned mines in
The management plan sets out to start a process of action. Its most generally applicable contribution to the wider mining industry is a summary of the Best Management Practices for addressing situations commonly encountered at abandoned mines.
content in the management plan of general interest is information about the location
of mines and mining districts in
there is only one document you need to read to get most of the story about the
Midnite Mine in
At nearly 250 pages long, I cannot begin to summarize the wealth of detail in this ROD. Suffice it to note here that the selected remedy includes:
A sad part of the story that is told in this somewhat edited quote:
“Successful reclamation means the restoration of all areas disturbed by mining activities including aspects of the mine itself, waste disposal areas, buildings, and roads and utility corridors. It is the product of thorough planning and execution of a well conceived reclamation plan. Restoration means returning of the site to a condition that minimizes erosion and sedimentation, supports productive and diverse plant and animal communities and allows for the desired post-mining land use.”
Thus begins the Wisconsin Mining Information Fact Sheet Reclamation and long-Term Care Requirements for Metallic Mining Sites in Wisconsin. This fact sheet and the following can be accessed at this link.
Taken together, these fact sheets present an interesting survey of mining activities and requirements in a state not normally thought of as a leading mining community. Thankfully the fact sheets are brief, but informative. For example the fact sheet that is the subject of this piece manages in a mere seven pages to summarize all the relevant issues involved in mine reclamation, setting out the basic requirements for a Mine Reclamation Plan. Take a look at this for a basic check list.