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Technology taking strides to help recover hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines


May, 2017

M. DeHart

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Abandoned mines left accessible to the public

The allegedly haunted Crescent Mine in Oregon, USA

Open pit mines with hundred foot drops.

Open pit gold mine in Northern Nevada

Source: Geomartin

Up to 500,000 abandoned mines litter the United States.

Many are forgotten or their whereabouts remain buried in hundred-year-old documents with little information to pull.  Unfortunately, most abandoned mines are incredibly dangerous for the curious adventurer. Dynamite, blasting caps, and chemicals are often left behind. These explosives become unstable as they get older and can be detonated by the simple vibration of a footstep.

Many deaths in abandoned mines are due to citizens being unaware of innumerable dangers that lie within. Abandoned mine and quarry accidents kill 20 to 30 Americans per year, such as three teenagers who only made it about 300 feet before being exposed to a lethal concentration of carbon dioxide in the Bookcliffs Mine, Colorado, in 1989.

Fatalities can be prevented.

Although once prosperous, these underground voids now pose a perpetual risk to buildings, roads, or other infrastructures that may one day be built in the area. One such issue happened in April 2016 when a sinkhole opened in a Des Moines neighborhood. Officials credited the event to a mine dating back to the 1920’s– a 200 acre project once part of the South Des Moines Coal Company. Aside from accidents and natural disasters, mine search efforts historically included using old mining maps to help guide searches as practitioners drilled around possible locations. To improve efforts to reclaim and regulate abandoned sites researchers in the mining industry have been utilizing innovative technologies. Seismic data acquisition and multi-attribute processing help locate mines left behind.

The search process refines as recent seismic and geophysical technology grows.

Researchers are applying shallow high-resolution 2D and 3D seismic systems  in locating hidden mines. Other modern technologies allow experts to detect potential threats an abandoned mine might hold, such as lack of oxygen, combustible gases, and even fires that have been left burning for decades.

Organizations such as the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Reclamation Program use funding from current coal mining companies to recover mines that were constructed before 1977.  Since AML’s inception, coal mine companies have paid over $9.2 billion in fees to reclaim related areas.  These funds salvaged almost 240,000 acres of hazardous coal-related problems across the United States. The AML and similar programs have eliminated security and environmental threats on almost 315,000 acres of land, paving the way for safety.

  1. https://useiti.doi.gov/how-it-works/aml-reclamation-program/
  2. http://deq.wyoming.gov/aml/dangers-of-abandoned-mines/
  3. https://arlweb.msha.gov/minemapping/minemapping.asp


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