A 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 But paper books would soon be out of date.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 a 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 United States.

I 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 noon-coal solid mineral activities on Federal and Indian Lands.” The purpose of reclamation as envisaged in the manual is “to shape, stabilize, revegetate or otherwise treat disturbed areas in order to provide a self-sustaining and productive use of the land in conformance with the land-use plan. Short-term reclamation goals are to stabilize disturbed areas and to protect both disturbed and adjacent areas from unnecessary or undue degradation.”

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 pot-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 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:

  • Health and value of the affected resources
  • Compliance with Federal and State laws
  • Assurance against pollution of water resources
  • Provision for protection of human safety and health
  • Consideration of the other consequences of backfilling, such as energy use, noise, dust, etc.
  • Development of reasonable measures to protect the scenic scientific and environmental values of the impacted area
  • Providence of secondary land use of the open pit after mining, such as raptor and other wildlife habitat.

Alternatives to conventional pit backfilling include:

  • Sequential backfilling where old pits are used as a repository for waste rock generated during the excavation of a new pit. This is possibly only when pits are close together and worked sequentially.
  • Shooting down of highwalls to increase landform stability and improve visual resources
  • Construction of raptor habitat.”

I enjoyed and learned 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 are raised in that chapter.

I would leave aside the chapter of dealing with uranium mine close; better see the NRC documents on this issue.