CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality is leading efforts to reclaim more than 100,000 acres of mine lands in Wyoming.
Wyoming DEQ spokeswoman Kristine Galloway said on Wednesday, Aug. 28 that about 20,000 acres have been fully reclaimed.
“To date, there are 184,488 acres of land disturbed by mining operations in Wyoming,” she wrote. “Of those, 106,964 acres are in some phase of reclamation. A little more than 50,000 acres are reclaimed to the point that ranchers can use the land for grazing.”
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This Google Timelapse video shows reclamation efforts at a mine site near Wright:
“The DEQ works with mining companies to ensure lands they’ve finished mining are returned to a quality that is beneficial to the state of Wyoming,” Galloway wrote. “In fact, reclaimed land often is enhanced and offers increased benefits to grazing for livestock and wildlife.”
Reclaiming mine lands is required under state and federal law. Galloway, citing DEQ Land Quality Division administratot Kyle Wendtland, explained that mine land reclamation begins shortly after mining begins at any sitesays this starts while the mines are still active and can continue for years after they’ve closed.
“In the case of coal mines, the miners remove the top soil and the overburden (all the material beneath the top soil but above the coal) and place it in piles called spoils,” she said. “The miners can then mine that first coal seam.”
“As the mining shifts, and each cut uncovers new coal, the spoils are used to refill each previous mined area and begin the process of reclamation, Wendtland explained.”
The Dave Johnston mine near Glenrock ceased operations in 2000 and was fully reclaimed as of 2015, according to the DEQ.
“A termination of jurisdiction is awarded only when a mine is fully reclaimed – including seeding of native plant populations – and remains in good grazing condition for 10 years, Wendtland said.”
Re-purposing land to be used for grazing is typical of mine reclamation efforts, though it is not possible to return it exactly to its original condition.
“Mining companies use tractors with ground radar and GPS to map the land,” Galloway said. “They can then design a plan for the reclaimed land through computer programs, Wendtland explained.”
“Operators then use machinery equipped with screens that show them exactly where to move dirt to create new hills and valleys across the reclaimed land.”
Selecting which native plants to seed in reclaimed areas is another aspect of reclaiming mine lands, according to the DEQ.
“The companies also will create water tanks or repurpose mining wells to serve livestock grazing and ensure the cattle will graze uniformly across the land, rather than in just one area,” Galloway explained via Wentland.
While mining companies are responsible for the cost of reclamation, the DEQ “requires all large projects to provide bonds equivalent to the cost of third-party reclamation.”
“In the event that a company files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy – liquidation of the company – the DEQ would collect those bonds and award a contract for a third-party company to complete the reclamation,” Galloway said.
Rules pertaining to these bonds were signed into law by Governor Mark Gordon this spring, she added.
“Kimber Wichmann, DEQ’s chief economic officer, explained that the DEQ began revising the rules when some mining operations began filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy – an effort to restructure or refinance a company – around 2015,” Galloway said.
The new rules only allow companies to be self-bonded up to 75% and only if they have high credit ratings.
“The new rules ensure mine reclamation is financially safer for Wyoming taxpayers by creating more stable rules to which the companies must adhere,” Galloway said.
“Muthu Kuchanur, natural resources program manager within the Land Quality Division, said the new bonding regulations and guidelines the DEQ is now using are absolutely creating bonding circumstances that are better for the state of Wyoming and safer for the state’s taxpayers.”
Wyoming DEQ spokesman Keith Guille explains more about mining reclamation in this video: