25,000 Abandoned Mines Are Just the Beginning

October 27, 2010

There are tens of thousands of abandoned mines around the country. Contaminated water continues to leach from them, they remain traps for people and animals, and deteriorating old explosives lurk in some dark corners.

The BLM is ramping up its effort to mitigate threats from abandoned mines on its lands. One of the first steps has been to simply document where the mines are; the number inventoried has more than doubled since 2008, now totaling at least 25,280 (most of which are hardrock mines).

Another important step is to encourage active mine operators who have abandoned mines on their land to mitigate any related problems. On Oct. 6, 2010, the BLM announced that it is notifying about 4,000 claim owners that they have an abandoned mine on or near their operations, and informing them of their responsibilities related to these hazardous sites. The agency says it will be following up to make certain the abandoned mines are properly dealt with, in light of each mine's specific circumstances.

By far the most known abandoned mines are in Nevada (more than 12,000). Others with high numbers include Colorado (more than 3,000), Arizona (about 2,500), Utah (almost 2,000), and Wyoming, Montana, and California (each between 1,000 and 1,500). South Dakota has the fewest (3), Oregon and Washington each have fewer than 100, and Alaska, New Mexico, and Idaho each have anywhere from about 175 to 700.

To get details on any given mine, contact the local BLM office, or if that proves difficult, start with the Abandoned Mine Lands office.

Abandoned mines on BLM lands are just one small part of the picture. Other agencies that must deal with these hazards include the US Forest Service, US EPA, the National Park Service, the Office of Surface Mining, and many states and tribes in mining areas. You can contact each one to find out the status of its inventory, and to find out what steps, if any, are being taken to reduce the hazards.