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Mine Reclamation

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At its core, reclamation is an effort to restore harm done to a mined land’s soil health and prepare the land for another use after mining activities cease. Reclamation is ideally a two-part process undertaken from the moment mining activity begins: first minimizing negative environmental effects during mining and, at its conclusion, restoring land to a beneficial end use, such as open land, wildlife habitat, agriculture, residential/commercial use, etc. From a technical perspective, reclamation activities likely include efforts to “clean-up” the damaged landscape such as acid rock drainage management, efforts to control erosion and sedimentation, construction of tailings covers, revegetation, soil decontamination and topsoil replacement, and water treatment. While these technical aspects are needed, there is some research suggesting a more holistic, inclusive approach which aims to reframe reclamation as an “ongoing, creative process of community healing” (Rethinking remediation). See the “Holistic Remediation” section of this wiki for more information and resources.

This wiki serves to collect projects, methods, research, and questions related to mine reclamation. Help this resource grow by editing this page here! Visit the mine reclamation tag page to see the latest posts about this topic on Public Lab, and receive updates by following the #mine-reclamation tag:

Follow mine reclamation

Lead image: "Reclaimed Mine Area_DSC_0168" by Intermountain Region US Forest Service is marked with CC PDM 1.0.

What’s on this page:



Community stories and projects

Public Lab community projects related to mine reclamation will appear here




More stories and projects related to mine reclamation



Questions about mine reclamation

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Methods and activities on monitoring reclamation


Photo documentation

Kinds of data produced: Visual records of observable reclamation permit violations / compliance, or reclamation progress.

Examples of permit violations are explained in these posts:


METHODS:

Aerial photography and videography


Photography combined with Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) to monitor plant growth over time on reclaimed land



Reviewing public records to detect violations

Kinds of data produced: Possible reporting violations by mine operators: missing or unexpected data, repeated limit violations. These can be reported to a state agency (source: Appalachian Water Watch Citizen Monitoring Manual)

METHODS:

Reviewing Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs)



Water quality testing

Acid mine drainage from the Mike Horse Mine complex enters upper Blackfoot River watershed

Image: “Acid mine drainage from the Mike Horse Mine complex enters upper Blackfoot River watershed,” Earthworks, CC BY.


Kinds of data produced: Measurements of water pH, conductivity, and other parameters. Discharge and runoff from active mining can negatively impact these water quality indicators, while reclamation activities might improve them.

Water quality data that you collect can potentially be compared with data reported on Discharge Monitoring Reports (source: Appalachian Water Watch Citizen Monitoring Manual), and compared with relevant regulatory standards.

METHODS:

Identifying sites for water quality testing


Measuring water pH

pH values indicate how acidic (low pH) or alkaline (high pH) the water is. The US EPA sets its freshwater pH standard between 6.5 and 9. Drainage from mines can be acidic or alkaline depending on what minerals the water interacts with as it flows through the mining site.




Note that one study in a Mid-Appalachian watershed found that while other water quality indicators improved after reclamation, pH did not:

“...acid mine drainage was still the dominant factor leading to the overall poor water quality (low pH, high sulfate and metals) in the watershed after reclamation was completed more than 20 years ago.” Wei et al. 2010


Measuring water conductivity

Water that has more inorganic solids dissolved in it (like salts, metals, or other chemical pollutants) generally conducts an electrical current better---it has a higher conductivity. Water downstream of mining activity could occasionally have higher conductivity due to dissolved solids from discharges.



Monitoring soil health

Kinds of data produced: Measurements of soil pH, heavy metal concentrations, activity of microbial and other biological life, other indicators of soil health. Similar to impacts on water quality, mining activity and reclamation can affect these soil health indicators.

METHODS:

The soil contamination wiki at https://publiclab.org/wiki/soil is where we’ve collected and organized information on soil contaminants and testing methods. Below are some resources that might be particularly useful in monitoring or evaluating mine reclamation.



Activities

Activities tagged with activity:mine-reclamation will appear here

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Activities should include a materials list, costs and a step-by-step guide to construction with photos. Learn what makes a good activity here.



Regulations on mine reclamation

US regulations

Different federal agencies are involved in regulating mining activity and reclamation in the US

  • The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) regulates coal mining and regulation in the US, operating under the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA).
  • Other agencies that regulate mining activities in some way include the Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Federal laws that can apply to mining and reclamation activities include the Clean Air Act (CAA), Clean Water Act (CWA), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) / Superfund.
  • In many cases, regulatory activities are delegated to individual states or tribes. List of state mining agencies in the US.

For examples of how community science can engage with regulatory processes in mining and reclamation, see these posts from the Mountains and the Mines Monitoring Project team @ekpeterman, @jfreemanfilm, @junior_walk1337:


Abandoned mines

Many mines and surrounding lands that have since been abandoned by mine operators remain inadequately reclaimed. The Bureau of Land Management estimates that there are 100,000 to 500,000 abandoned mines in the western US alone, the location of most unrecorded. This poses massive public health, safety, and environmental hazards (publication about abandoned mine safety in CA). Tailings piles likely contain harmful chemicals which may leach into the soil, groundwater, and surrounding surface water, especially when left unmanaged at an abandoned site (source).

The OSMRE runs the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) program to help fund state- and tribe-led reclamation of abandoned coal mines. The Department of the Interior recently extended this program through 2034 (source).


Australia



Advocacy




Holistic Remediation

Mine reclamation is often seen as a bandaid -- an opportunity to fix the damage done to a landscape during the mining process. However, reclamation is a part of the mining process and can itself cause harm by altering the landscape further and ignoring or contributing to past injustices. A holistic approach to reclamation/remediation includes principles such as emphasizing public participation, elevating & addressing environmental justice concerns, and acknowledging a landscape’s “thickness” — the “diversity of past and contemporary values projected onto the landscape, history, meaning, and social interactions with and on the landscape (Rethinking remediation). Below are a few resources shared by holistic mine reclamation scholar Caitlynn Beckett:

Environmental & Health Concerns

There are numerous environmental concerns related to the mine reclamation process and abandoned mines, including:

  • Sustaining plant vitality
  • Soil degradation
  • Soil erosion
  • Invasive species
  • Groundwater seepage
  • Mobilized heavy metals
  • Loss of carbon sequestration

The above environmental problems also lead to numerous human health concerns and things to be on the look out for:

  • Heavy metal leaching
  • Groundwater and surface water quality (especially if local drinking water uses these resources)
  • Flocculating agents used in mining and reclamation process



Further reading and resources


Wikis related to mine reclamation

Title Updated Version Views Likes
Mine Reclamation 11 days ago by laurel_mire 15 38 0
Evaluating the Success of Mine Reclamation 4 months ago by laurel_mire 31 226 0
Observable water quality violations related to frac sand mining almost 3 years ago by stevie 8 177 1
Frac Sand Advocacy Leverage Points almost 4 years ago by stevie 35 470 0
Building a Frac Sand Economic Assessment almost 5 years ago by gretchengehrke 5 292 1
Butte, Montana: Centerville Neighborhood almost 11 years ago by Olivia 1 235 2



Next step challenges

Areas for potential further development in tools, resources, and advocacy. Please edit or add to this section so folx can see where they might be able to contribute!

  • Identify advocacy pathways that include federal regulations or enforcement, especially when state regulations result in inadequate reclamation.
  • Policy reform that invites more public participation in reclamation planning and throughout mine operations. (This report by Beckett et al. reviewed a sample of reclamation programs in different countries and found few examples of successful public engagement with reclamation.)
  • Develop and test methods for community scientists to use landsat imagery (satellite images of Earth from space) to do remote monitoring of surface mining and reclamation over time (example here).
  • Research and develop sensor networks for monitoring soil and water quality around mining sites, to detect potential pollution in real-time (similar example for agricultural applications).