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Abandoned Coal Mines

2012 December 3

By Jeffery Robichaud

A fair portion of our GIS mapping activities in Region 7 are related to cleanup of contamination from historic lead mining activities, several of which we hope to share in future blog posts. But mining in Missouri was not always lead.  In fact, Missouri has a rich coal mining history and lays claim to being the first state west of the Mississippi River to commercially produce coal.  In Missouri, hundreds of mostly small, family-owned mines operated into the middle part of last century.

Unfortunately abandoned underground coal mines can pose significant safety concerns, possibly causing damage to homes and infrastructure especially if folks aren’t aware of their presence.  Additionally, even though mining isn’t active, abandoned mines can also still produce methane  from vents, fissures, or boreholes.  If you have ever visited the Museum of Science and Industry  in Chicago and taken the Coal Mine tour, you know how dangerous methane can be if it builds up.  EPA has worked with industry and states to develop the Coalbed Methane Outreach Program (CMOP) a voluntary program whose goal is to reduce methane emissions from coal mining activities including abandoned mines, and whose:

…mission is to promote the profitable recovery and use of coal mine methane (CMM), a greenhouse gas more than 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide. By working cooperatively with coal companies and related industries, CMOP helps to address barriers to using CMM instead of emitting it to the atmosphere. In turn, these actions mitigate climate change, improve mine safety and productivity, and generate revenues and cost savings.

You can find out more about CMOP by visiting EPA’s website, and can view slides from 2012 US Coal Mine Methane Conference as well.

So as you contemplate whether you might find coal in your stocking this season, consider giving a gift to the State of Missouri if you have an old map that was passed down through your family like the one shown below.  The State has, for the last several years, been collecting donated maps and scanning them into the department’s archive as well as sending electronic versions to the Office of Surface Mining in Pennsylvania for inclusion in the National Mine Map Repository. You can see their pitch for your maps by watching the youtube video below (even though the video says 2011, I’m sure they would still be happy to receive a map from you).

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Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.  He took his boys on the Coal Mine tour at MSI this Spring roughly thirty years after he visited with his brother.   It is quite possible that he may receive coal in his stocking at the end of December.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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