GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 34-4
Presentation Time: 2:25 PM


ASAFO-AKOWUAH, John1, MCLEMORE, Virginia T.2 and WINTON, Ashlynne1, (1)New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Mineral Engineering Department, 801 Leroy Place, P.O. Box 2967, Socorro, NM 87801, (2)Bureau of Geology, New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, 801 Leroy Place, Socorro, NM 87801,

Mining has had a significant role in the economic development in NM as early as the 1500s. One of the earliest gold rushes in the West was in the Ortiz Mtns (Old Placers district) in 1828, 21 yrs before the California Gold Rush in 1849. Many of these mines were abandoned when insufficient minerals were found; others were abandoned when mining became unprofitable. At the time the U.S. General Mining Law of 1872 was written, there was no recognition of the environmental consequences of mine and mill wastes or the impact of them on the drinking water supplies and riparian and aquatic habitats. Miners operating on federal lands had little to no requirement for environmental reclamation until the 1960s-1970s, although the dumping of mine wastes into the nation’s 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.

In NM, there are tens of thousands of inactive or abandoned mine features in 274 mining districts (including coal, uranium, metals, and industrial minerals). Many of these mine features do not pose any physical or environmental hazard, although some pose a physical hazard, which is easily but costly to remediate. A few of these mine features can pose serious environmental hazards. However, a complete inventory and prioritization for reclamation has not been accomplished in NM.

Many state and federal agencies have mitigated the physical safety hazards by closing these mine features, but very few of these reclamation efforts have examined the long-term environmental effects. There is still potential for environmental effects long after remediation of the physical hazards, as found in several areas in New Mexico (for example Terrero and Questa mines). Some of these observations only come from detailed electron microprobe studies that are not part of a remediation effort.

The objective of our research is to develop a better procedure to inventory and characterize abandoned mine features in NM. Hazard ranking of mine features, using BLM ranking methodology will be utilized for most sites. Also we want to suggest remedial activities that would manage or mitigate dangers to the environment and public health, while taking into consideration historical, cultural and wildlife issues and mineral resource potential.

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