Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Project
New Mexico's mineral wealth is among the richest of any state in the U.S. In 2015, New Mexico ranked 10th in coal production, 2nd in copper production, and 20th in total nonfuel minerals production (McLemore, 2017). Most of the state’s production comes from oil, gas, coal, copper, potash, industrial minerals (potash, perlite, cement, zeolites, etc.) and aggregates. Other important commodities include molybdenum, gold, uranium, and silver. However, legacy issues of past mining activities forms negative public perceptions of mining, and inhibits future minerals production in the state. Some legacy mines have the potential to contaminate the environment; the Gold King uncontrolled release into the Animas River is a recent example. At the time the General Mining Law of 1872 was written, there was no recognition of the environmental consequences of discharge of mine and mill wastes or the impact on drinking water, and riparian and aquatic habitats. Miners operating on federal lands had little or no requirement for environmental protection until the 1960s-1970s, although the dumping of mine wastes and mill tailings directly into rivers was halted by an Executive Order in 1935. It is important to recognize that these early miners were not breaking any laws, because there were no laws to break, but legacy issues still exist.
As a result of this mining, there are tens of thousands of inactive or abandoned mine features in 274 mining districts in New Mexico (including coal, uranium, metals, and industrial minerals districts), however many of them have not been inventoried or prioritized for reclamation. Many state and federal agencies and mining companies have mitigated many of the physical safety hazards by closing some of these mine features, but very few of these reclamation efforts have examined the long-term environmental effects. The New Mexico Abandoned Mine Lands Bureau of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department estimates that there are more than 15,000 abandoned mine features in the state (http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/MMD/AML/amlmain.html ). The New Mexico AML Program has safeguarded over 2,300 mine openings since inception in 1981 in about 250 separate construction projects (some of which were focused on coal gob reclamation and not safeguarding). The U.S. Bureau of Land Management recently estimated that more than 10,000 mine features are on BLM lands in New Mexico and only 705 sites have been reclaimed (http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/more/Abandoned_Mine_Lands/abandoned_mine_site.html). The New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources (NMBGMR) has collected published and unpublished data on the districts, mines, deposits, occurrences, and mills since it was created in 1927 and is slowly converting historical data into a relational database, the New Mexico Mines Database (McLemore et al., 2005a,b). More than 8,000 mines are recorded in the New Mexico Mines Database and more than 7,000 are inactive or abandoned. These mines often include two or more actual mine features.
Most of these mine features do not pose any physical or environmental hazard and many more, pose only a physical hazard, which is easily but costly to remediate. But a complete inventory of these features is needed. Some of these inactive or abandoned mine features can pose serious health, safety and/or environmental hazards, such as open shafts and adits (some concealed by deterioration or vegetative growth), tunnels that contain deadly gases, highwalls, encounters with wild animals, radon and metal-laden waters. Some sites have the potential to contaminate surface water, groundwater and air quality. Heavy metals in mine waste or tailings and acid mine drainage can potentially impact water quality and human health.
The New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources in cooperation with the Mineral Engineering Department at New Mexico Tech, the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program at New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division (NMMMD), and EPSoR ( Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research; http://archive.nmepscor.org/) is conducting research on inactive/abandoned mine features in New Mexico. The objective of our research is to develop a better procedure to inventory and characterize inactive or abandoned mine features in New Mexico and evaluate them in terms of physical stability, chemical stability, public health and safety, ecological risks, and risk to econsystems. The project will inventory, characterize, and prioritize for reclamation the mine features in three mining districts in New Mexico: the Jicarilla Mountains district in Lincoln County and the North Magdalena and Rosedale districts in Socorro County for the New Mexico Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Program. Additional mining districts in Socorro and Cibola Counties are being examined as well, some containing uranium mines. The project involves field examination and collecting data on the mine features (Bureau of Land Management, 2014). Samples are collected to determine total whole rock geochemistry, mineralogical, physical, and engineering properties, acid-base accounting, hydrologic conditions, particle size analyses, soil classification, shear strength testing for stability analysis, and prioritization for remediation, including hazard ranking. Not only will samples be collected for geochemical and geotechnical characterization, but the mine features will be mapped, evaluated for future mineral-resource potential, and evaluated for slope stability.
DEFINITIONS OF ABANDONED MINES
The Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA) defines abandoned surface mined area as mined lands that meet all of the following requirements (Section 2796 (b)(2)(A)(ii)):
- Mining operations have ceased for a period of one year or more.
- There are no approved financial assurances that are adequate to perform reclamation in accordance with this chapter.
- The mined lands are adversely affected by past mineral mining, other than mining for coal, oil, and gas, and mineral material mining.
California defines abandoned mine as the location of any mineral extraction, exploration or borrow operation that may include, but is not limited to, shafts and adits, buildings and workings, open pits, stockpiles, roads, processing areas, waste disposal areas, or tailing piles and ponds, and which meet all of the following conditions:
- Mining operations have ceased for a period of one year or more
- There is no interim management plan in effect
The National Orphaned and Abandoned Mines Initiative (NAOMI) in Canada defines orphaned or abandoned mines as those i=mines for which the owner cannot be found or for which the owner is financially unable to carry out cleanup (http://www.abandoned-mines.org/en/).
Principle Investigators: Navid Mojtabai, Virginia T. McLemore and Ingar Walder
Graduate Students: John Asafo-Akowuah (2016-May 2017), William Zutah (2016-2017), Ashlynne Winton (2016), Marcus Silva (2017-present)
Undergraduate students: John Durica, Bonnie Durica, Joseph Shackleford
Additional database and mining archive support from Amy Trivett
- Asafo-Akowuah, J., McLemore, V.T. and Winton, A., 2016, The Characterization of Abandoned Mines in New Mexico (abstr.): AIPG 2016 Annual meeting, poster (won 2nd place), September
- Asafo-Akowuah, J., McLemore, V.T. and Winton, A., 2016, The Characterization of Abandoned Mines in New Mexico (abstr.): New Mexico Mining Association, September
- Asafo-Akowuah, J., McLemore, V.T. and Winton, A., 2016, The Characterization of Abandoned Mines in New Mexico (abstr.): GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA, Paper No. 34-4, https://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2016AM/webprogram/Paper279703.html
- Asafo-Akowuah, J. and Virginia T. McLemore, V.T., 2017, The Characterization of Abandoned URANIUM Mines (AUM) in New Mexico: Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, 2017 Annual meeting abstract, presentation
- Asafo-Akowuah, J. and McLemore, V.T., 2017, The Characterization of Legacy Mines in Jicarilla Mountians, New Mexico: Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, 2016 Annual meeting abstract, poster
- Zutah, W., Winton, A., and McLemore, V.T., 2017, The Characterization of the Rosedale Mining District, Socorro County, New Mexico: Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, 2016 Annual meeting abstract, poster
- Asafo-Akowuah, J., 2017, Characterization and comparison of mine wastes from legacy mines in NM: NMT graduate seminar
- Asafo-Akowuah, J., and McLemore, V.T., 2017, Characterization of abandoned uranium mines from legacy mines in NM: NMGS spring meeting
- Asafo-Akowuah, J., 2017, Characterization of abandoned uranium mines from legacy mines in NM: M.S. defense
- Bureau of Land Management, 2014, Abandoned Mine Land Inventory Study for BLM-Managed Lands in California, Nevada, and Utah: Site and Feature Analysis. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, National Operations Center, Denver, CO., 24 p., http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/wo/blm_library/BLM_pubs.Par.79469.File.dat/BLM-AML-Inventory-CA-NV-UT_Nov2014.pdf
- McLemore, V.T., 2017, Mining districts and prospect areas of New Mexico: New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, Resource Map 24, 65 p., scale 1:1,000,000.
- McLemore, V.T., Hoffman, G., Smith, M., Mansell, M., and Wilks, M., 2005a, Mining districts of New Mexico: New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources, OF-494, CD-ROM.
- McLemore, V.T., Krueger, C.B., Johnson, P., Raugust, J.S., Jones, G.E., Hoffman, G.K. and Wilks, M., 2005b, New Mexico Mines Database: Mining Engineering, February, p. 42-47.
Updated May 25, 2017