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AML Project: Inventory and Characterization of Inactive/abandoned mine (AML) features in New Mexico

Open shaft in the Jicarilla district.
John Asafo-Akowuah sampling a waste dump.

The NMBGMR has been examining the environmental effects of mine waste rock piles throughout New Mexico since the early 1990s. 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. 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. 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. The U.S. Park Service has identified 71 mine features in 7 parks in New Mexico, of which 12 have been mitigated and 34 require mitigation. Additional sites have been reclaimed by the responsible companies and the Superfund program (CERCLA).

The New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources has collected published and unpublished data on the districts, mines, deposits, occurrences, and mills since it was created in 1927 and is slowly converting historical data into a relational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. 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 physical hazards, which are easy but costly to remediate. However, 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, 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 and the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program at the New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division (NMMMD) 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. 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. Principal investigators are Drs. Mojtabai, McLemore, and Walder of NM Tech. Two graduate students and three undergraduate students are involved with the project. The project involves field visits to the sites for inventorying, sample collecting, characterization, and evaluation of each mine feature and prioritization for reclamation, including hazard ranking.

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