Abandoned mines with associated acid mine drainage (AMD) discharges are among the greatest threats to ground and surface water quality in many areas of the United States. While mining is extremely important to our standard of living, energy production, and national security, it can disturb the land and alter the hydrologic balance—affecting the quality and quantity of ground and surface waters in the vicinity of mining operations. Most modern mines are now reclaimed during and after completion of mining activities; but prior to the enactment of environmental laws in the 1970s, most abandoned mines were not reclaimed when it was no longer profitable to retrieve the mineral or coal resources.
Abandoned mine sites, along with associated acidic discharges, must be remediated. To optimize remedial work, state officials should use all available funding sources, develop new funding sources, build partnerships, and remove obstacles that prevent third parties from undertaking activities that address groundwater contamination problems. Future mining and reclamation activities must be planned with a critical eye to environmental and ecological circumstances, using information that incorporates adequate hydrological data, to prevent creation of new acidic discharges.
Such plans should evaluate the impacts or ramifications of mining before the fact and assist the industry in implementing mitigating measures. States should also adopt full-cost bonding requirements, or an equally effective alternative, to reduce the number of mine sites added to the abandoned mine lands inventory through bankruptcy.
Why Abandoned Mines Matter to Groundwater
Many abandoned coal mines and hardrock mines emit acid mine drainage. This takes place because the rocks associated with both types of mines often contain metal sulfides, such as pyrite. When the rock or coal deposits are excavated, the sulfides are exposed to water and oxygen, and react to form sulfuric acid. Many surface and underground abandoned mines, and their associated spoil and refuse piles, provide an ongoing source of acid mine drainage and toxic heavy metals that can have long-term devastating impacts on groundwater, community water supplies, rivers, streams, and aquatic life.
From the Ground Water Report to the Nation
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Colorado Idle Wells Peer Assessment
The State Oil and Gas Regulatory Exchange (Exchange) has released a peer assessment of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission's (COGCC’s) idle well program. The Exchange is a partnership between the Ground Water Protection Council (GPWC) and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) with a mission to assist states’ efforts to continuously improve their oil and gas regulatory programs. At the request of the COGCC, oil and gas regulators from Alabama, Alaska, and Arkansas reviewed Colorado's regulations relating to idle wells. In Colorado, idle wells represent any well that is shut-in, temporarily abandoned, suspended, or idle for any other reason and not properly plugged and abandoned to the requirements of the state. Through the Exchange assessment process, a team of state peers evaluates the appropriateness, effectiveness, and efficiency of existing regulations, regulatory initiatives, or overall programs. These efforts allow states to draw on the expertise of their peers and others for input on a broad range of topics depending on the requesting state’s needs. In Colorado, idle wells are wells that are shut-in, temporarily abandoned, suspended, or idle for any other reason and not properly plugged and abandoned to the requirements of the state
SOGRE Peer Assessment: Virginia DMME, Division Of Oil & Gas
The State Oil & Gas Regulatory Exchange (SOGRE) released today a Peer Assessment of Virginia's Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy, Division of Oil and Gas. SOGRE is an outreach program created under the States First Initiative. The mission of the SOGRE is to assist states to continually improve state oil and gas regulatory programs by providing member states consultation and program assessment services targeted to their specific needs. Virginia’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME): Division of Gas and Oil (Division) regulates the exploration and production of natural gas and oil in the Commonwealth through the Virginia Gas and Oil Act (the Act) and its attendant regulations. As a follow up to a 2017 STRONGER Review, Deputy Director, Bradley Lambert approached the State Oil & Gas Regulatory Exchange (SOGRE) in writing requesting additional analysis. Mr. Lambert said, “DMME appreciated STRONGER’s largely positive feedback and has incorporated many of its recommendations. However, DMME believes there are a couple of aspects of its regulatory program that could benefit from a more in depth, granular review. Therefore, DMME respectfully requests SOGRE examine the following areas: The existing laws and regulations that govern exploration and production of oil and gas resources in the eastern half of the Commonwealth (Commonly referred to as the Tidewater region) Whether DMME should adopt regulations governing Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) and whether those regulations should apply statewide or only in specific regions.
Ground Water Report to the Nation
Our groundwater resources are in serious need of attention. Abundant, high quality, low-cost groundwater resources are fundamental to the long-term growth and vitality of our nation, yet this most important resource is often overlooked, if not neglected. Attention to the protection and management of groundwater has consistently lagged behind that given to surface waters, meaning that historic and current water resource laws and policies deal primarily with the protection and management of our more visible lakes, rivers, and wetlands.
The purpose of the Ground Water Report to the Nation is to highlight some of the more prevalent threats to groundwater, share sucess stories, and make recommendations for improved groundwater protection and awareness.
Note: Please visit the Ground Water Report to the Nation topics page for individual chapters of the report.
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