EUREKA, Utah – The Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program (AMRP) staff recently oversaw the closure of 56 abandoned mine openings on private land near Eureka in the Tintic Mining District in Utah County. The project included the Tintic Standard Mine No. 2, the mine shaft where the bodies of Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson and Riley Powell were recovered in 2018.
“The area is private property, but easily accessible and close to popular off-highway vehicle trails,” said AMRP Manager Steve Fluke. “Safeguarding these mines ensures that future risks are minimized or eliminated, improving public safety. Closure methods, including backfills, rebar grates, walls and polyurethane foam, were selected to protect features of historical significance and animal habitats while protecting public safety.”
The Tintic Mining District has a rich mining history dating back to the late 19th century. It experienced a significant boom during the late 1800s and early 1900s, with numerous mines and mining towns in the area. At its peak, the district was one of Utah’s most important mining regions and played a crucial role in the state’s economic development.
Today there are an estimated 17,000 abandoned mine openings scattered across Utah. Since the AMRP began in 1983, approximately 7,000 openings have been closed. When mines were no longer producing, they were often abandoned, leaving equipment, open shafts, tunnels and piles of waste rock. In 1975, the Utah Mined Reclamation Act was passed, making it illegal for mines to be abandoned.
The AMRP protects the public from the dangers of old mines by sealing off access to openings and cleaning up waste. Old mining sites can contain dangerous gases, unstable structures, and explosives. For more information on the AMRP, visit ogm.utah.gov/amr/index.php.
The Division of Oil, Gas and Mining is one of nine joint winners of the 2022 Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Pulaski Award, recognizing outstanding interagency efforts to successfully manage the Bear and Bennion wildfires of June 2021. Partners include BLM-Green River District (Price Field Office), Manti-La Sal National Forest, Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands (Southeast Area), Moab Interagency Fire Center, Utah Department of Transportation, Price City, Helper City, and Carbon County.
Peerless Coal Fires Project
The Bear wildfire
burned over 12,000 acres in the Wasatch Plateau and ignited multiple coal fires
near Helper, in Hardscrabble Canyon, and the side canyons of Spring Canyon. Abandoned
Mine Reclamation Program (AMRP) staff were contacted to assess and oversee the
Peerless Coal Fires Project. Contractors excavated 2,100 cubic yards of burning
coal in a refuse pile near the historic Peerless No. 1 mine and a coal seam
between the Peerless No. 2 mine portals. Rapid response was crucial to fighting
this fire since the burning coal seam connected to the old workings of the
Peerless No. 2 mine and could have ignited and spread quickly into the workings.
This project was successfully completed in August 2021.
Hardscrabble Refuse Fires Emergency Project
seven-week effort by AMRP and their contractors, the Hardscrabble Refuse Fires
Emergency Project was completed in March 2022. Almost 23,000 cubic yards of
burning coal refuse were excavated and quenched along Hardscrabble Canyon Road.
The coal refuse was observed to be greater than 20 feet deep in some burning
areas and extends over a one-half mile along the canyon floor, most likely stockpiled
as waste from the historic Lolly and Carbon Fuels mines. Final reclamation of
the site will occur in the next year or two. It will include partial removal
and capping the coal of refuse, stream channel stabilization, and re-contouring
and revegetating the project area.
The AMRP and BLM
worked closely to complete project activities in environmentally sound ways,
including ensuring clean soils mixed with burning coal were sourced from sites
that would not introduce undesirable vegetation or materials into the project areas.
The BLM and the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands cleared vegetation
from the Hardscrabble burn area to minimize additional wildfire risk. These
projects represent effective interagency cooperation.
refuse fires have been reported in Peerless, Hardscrabble, and Storrs canyons.
AMRP is planning the Spring Canyon Refuse Fires Project to address these new
fires. As drought conditions continue and the fire season approaches, AMRP is
prepared to take on recent coal fires at abandoned mines to protect public
safety and the environment.
funding is eligible for fighting coal fires that are associated with mining that
predates the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA).
Staff with the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining’s Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program (AMRP) was contacted by staff from the Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands (FFSL) Price Office regarding a fire burning on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Spring Canyon near Helper, Utah. FFSL investigated and found the fire to be burning in a coal seam and very close to the old Peerless Coal Mine No 2 and No 3 portals. A study of old mine maps digitized by the Utah Geological Survey showed that the old portals connected to extensive underground workings on both sides of the canyon. Further investigation indicated that several methane explosions and fatalities had occurred at the Peerless Mines while they were in operation. Continued observation showed that the fire was expanding into the coal seam by one foot per week.
AMRP worked with the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to obtain emergency approval of grant fund expenditures and extinguish the fire as soon as possible. While preparing the project details for the coal seam fire, a second fire was observed at the coal refuse pile located near the Peerless Mine No 1 mine portal in the same canyon. The fire was located approximately 600 feet north of the coal seam fire. Both coal fires were likely ignited by the Bear wildfire that had burned through the area in June 2021. The addition of the coal refuse fire doubled the project size and cost.
A coordinated, three-week effort by the AMRP resulted in emergency procurement authorization. The AMRP hired a contractor with experience on several previous reclamation projects. Construction started on August 23 with a track hoe improving access along the reclaimed road to the old portals. Modest improvements to the road allowed ATVs to transport materials to the site including water for quenching and mixing, fire-suppressant foam, and equipment fuel and minimizing impacts to the temporary access route. The burning coal seam was excavated, quenched with water and fire suppressant foam, mixed with soil from the site, then monitored for drops in temperature. Temperatures of the actively burning coal varied between 500- and 800-degrees F and decreased to below 97 degrees before the final backfill.
The coal refuse pile was quenched with water and fire suppressant foam and blended with onsite soil. Surface temperatures measured at several smoking vents and fractures varied between 113- and 235-degrees F. After 24 hours, the temperature was reduced to less than 69 degrees F, the area backfilled, and the access road was restored to its pre-work condition. The entire project was completed in five days.
The Peerless Coal fire project highlighted a great interaction between the AMRP, FFSL, and Bureau of Land Management. This project required the group to develop new procedures for handling emergency projects and was successful due to the dedication from all involved.
The Division’s Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program (AMRP), in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), safeguarded 29 abandoned mine openings in the Mineral Canyon area in Grand County in mid-April. Closure methods included metal grates, machine backfills, and native stone walls designed to protect features of historic significance and animal habitat, while protecting the public from injuries or death. Abandoned mines are hazardous because they are no longer maintained, lack ventilation, and may collapse.
The BLM Moab Field Office designated Mineral Canyon as a high priority for abandoned mine closures due to high visitation and recreational use areas in the Mineral Bottom area. Mineral Bottom accesses Canyonlands National Park (White Rim Trail), Green River boat ramp, campground, and airstrip. Mineral Canyon’s Fruit Bowl area, located on a rim above the canyon, is used for high-lining and base jumping. Mineral Bottom also provides a designated area for high-lining, base jumping, and parachuting events in the Canyon/Horsethief BASE Jumping Focus Area.
Mineral Canyon was a modest uranium and vanadium producer having mineral discoveries and production beginning in the early to mid-1950s.
The project was funded by grants from the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE,) BLM and Department of Energy (DOE).
While this past year presented us all with challenges and unforeseen circumstances, Division staff moved forward completing projects and adapting to new ways of doing business. Below are a few of the highlights from 2020.
Coal Program staff helped coal operators navigate the regulatory path nimbly and efficiently to continue their work. Skyline Mine operators determined that additional power was required for continued operations of their long wall miner. A corridor had previously been approved, however a larger corridor for the above ground powerline was needed, requiring additional permitting. Due to time constraints with the onset of winter, staff worked closely with the operator to get the additional permitting finalized so the powerline corridor could be completed.
Deer Creek Mine Reclamation of the Deer Creek mine was completed in late 2019. During 2020 spring runoff, several rills and gullies began to form on the reclaimed slopes. The operator and program staff immediately mobilized to the site and began working through the regulatory issues associated with repairing the erosion. A rogue culvert unknown during the operation of the Deer Creek Mine was identified as the issue. On-site field visits and conference calls with federal agencies were conducted to address regulatory issues and allow the operator to continue repair work before winter.
On March 20, Division staff was notified that operations at the Lisbon Valley Mine in southeastern Utah had shut down. The Division subsequently issued an order for final reclamation to be complete by September 30, 2021. Over the next several months program staff spent many hours overseeing reclamation operations and reviewing the mine plan and reclamation cost estimate. In January 2021, the operator submitted an adequate bond and obtained Division approval to re-start operations.
In December 2019, staff issued tentative approval of the revised Notice of Intention (NOI) for the Benjamin Quarry in Utah County. This decision was appealed informally to the Division by concerned area residents and then formally to the Board of Oil, Gas and Mining, which upheld the Division’s decision to approve the NOI with certain conditions. One issue of the appeal included the concern for petroglyphs around the mine.
Staff continue using tablets to record inspections and are working to expand the efficiencies by developing an inspection prioritization application. The tablets help inspectors keep track of inspection frequency, which is a major aspect of determining inspection scheduling.
Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program
Despite a slow and unusual start to the construction season due to the uncertainties presented by COVID, the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program (AMRP) completed two coal and six non-coal abandoned mine reclamation projects this year.
Coal reclamation consisted of the Clear Creek Refuse Reclamation Project and the Hiawatha Culvert Maintenance Project located in Carbon County. Non-coal projects closed a total of 170 hazardous abandoned mines and completed maintenance at 30 previously closed mine openings. Projects included the completion of the Spor Project in Juab County that began in the fall of 2019, the White and Deer Flat Project in San Juan County, Phase I of the Willard Peak Project in Weber County, the Westdip Bat Cupola Project in Tooele County, and the Buckmaster-OIG Project in Emery County. Maintenance projects included the Jacob City Maintenance Project in Tooele County, and the Temple Mountain Maintenance Project in Emery County.
The Hiawatha Culvert Maintenance Project was located about 14 miles southwest of Price at the historic Hiawatha mine. In 1914 mine operators built a culvert over a stretch of Miller Creek to accommodate a road crossing. The 200-foot culvert is constructed of large sandstone blocks and features a rare and striking barrel vault top exhibiting fine craftsmanship representative of the Italian and Greek immigrant stonemasonry of the early 20th century.
In 2012, the Seeley forest fire destroyed much of the vegetation on the Wasatch Plateau above Hiawatha. As a result, storms washed trees and rock debris down the watershed. Flooding washed out extensive portions of the century-old culvert walls and AMRP staff feared that the unsupported block culvert walls would collapse into the creek. At best, this would dump sediment in the creek; at worst, the creek could be dammed and risk a catastrophic flood event Besides losing a remarkable cultural feature and road access across the creek, structural failure of the culvert would have a significant effect on water quality and downstream fisheries.
Last September AMRP staff contracted with Strong Solutions, LLC of Fairfield, Utah to stabilized the damaged culvert by replacing the washed-out portions of the walls and floors with reinforced concrete. Immediately downstream of the culvert, a log jam was removed, and a deep gully head cut that threatened to undermine the culvert was stabilized by building a rock drop structure with stairstep basins to allow fish to migrate upstream.
Coal mining at Hiawatha began around 1909 and continued until 1992 with extensive operations in four canyons and in multiple coal seams. The company town of Hiawatha, with a peak population of approximately 1,500 residents in the 1940s, supported the operations.
Oil and Gas Program
The Division’s Oil and Gas Program successfully launched the Field Inspection Prioritization application that uses specific criteria to generate and implement data-driven decisions. Staff has worked with the Groundwater Protection Council (GWPC) to develop and implement the application designed to display in a spatial and report form which oil and gas sites should be inspected according to various inputs.
All oil and gas wells were given a priority rating from one (highest priority) to three (low priority). Prioritization is based on operational factors such as compliance issues and history, age of the well and how long since the last inspection. Geographic factors include well proximity to surface water, groundwater, human population density and wildlife habitat.
The program has been operational since January 2020 and has already helped our inspectors increase their inspection efficiency. The field application allows real time data collection that is automatically uploaded to the database saving inspectors time and reducing input errors. The program empowers program staff to consistently make decisions leading to reduced risk and more effective regulation through timely inspections.
This is an effective tool that will give management and staff the ability to make data driven decisions ensuring protection of Utah’s resources, while promoting responsible development.
Chris Roher is a senior reclamation specialist with the Division’s Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program. He started with the program as a graduate school intern in 1982 and moved to a full-time division employee in 1983.
As a senior reclamation specialist, Chris manages projects from the initial abandoned mine inventory to construction and closure. This planning process can include budget estimating, National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) compliance, procurement of construction and professional services, construction inspection, and contract management. Chris has been project manager for 49 construction contracts totaling $9.4 million, including reclamation at 100 coal mine sites an installation of over 1,880 non coal closures.
Chris enjoys his work for numerous reasons including being able to hike and explore areas of the state. With Utah’s vast mining history, his work has taken him every corner of the state. He is also proud that the AMR has an exemplary record of thoughtful project design and execution in sensitive environments that has earned the respect of land managers.
Chris has a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology/Environmental Studies from Butler University and a Master of Science degree in Environmental Sciences from Indiana University.
When Chris is not working, he enjoys watching independent films, world travel, and global cuisine and music.
The Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program received the 2020 National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs (NAAMLP) Hardrock Physical Safety Reclamation Award for the 2019 Red and Fry Canyon abandoned mine closure project in San Juan County.
Funded by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), 62 hazardous mine openings in the Red and Fry Canyon uranium districts on BLM land were closed using backfills, masonry walls, polyurethane foam plugs, and fabricated steel gates and grates. In addition, 12 electrical transformers dating to the 1950 – 60s were removed and disposed of from two mines.
Twelve of the sites are eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places because they provide important information about uranium mining associated with the Cold War uranium boom. Closure methods and activities were carefully managed so as not to adversely affect these historic properties and to retain the historic landscape.
This project is the first construction phase of a 400 square mile project initiative that addresses abandoned uranium mines in the Red Canyon, White Canyon, Fry Canyon, and Deer Flat mining districts.
Historically, the bulk of the mining activity and production in the project area occurred when the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission was purchasing uranium ore for defense-related activities between 1947 and 1970. After the federal support ended, most mines were abandoned. However, several uranium mines in Red Canyon were active as of 1980 and one permitted mine remains today.
The Red and Fry Canyon Project is a showcase example of interagency cooperation and collaboration to protect public safety while protecting the environment.
Seth Button, archaeologist and project manager for the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program (AMRP), received the 2020 Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining Employee Achievement Award.
He was nominated by his peers for his service to the Division and the State of Utah. Seth is a wonderful resource for the Division and helps not only the AMRP, but other Division programs needing assistance with cultural preservation and coordination. He is very knowledgeable about Utah and often helps improve the quality of the cultural reports staff receive from operators when there are inconsistencies or questions. He also works great in a team environment where he often provides valuable feedback to state and federal agencies and stakeholders.
Seth has been with the Division for a year and a half. As a project manager, he is responsible for leading projects from the identification of abandoned mines through compliance with state and federal regulations to construction/reclamation. As an archaeologist, he helps ensure that all program projects comply with applicable state and federal laws governing the treatment of cultural resources.
Seth is a great employee and representative of the Division. Congratulations Seth!
The Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program (AMRP) has five upcoming abandoned mine closure projects scheduled to begin in late summer/early fall of 2020. Closures are designed to protect features of historic significance and animal habitat, while protecting the public from injuries or death. Abandoned mines are hazardous because they are no longer maintained, lack ventilation and may collapse. All of the work is performed with approval from landowners and in coordination with land management agencies. Below is a summary of several of these projects.
The Willard Peak Project proposes to safeguard approximately 50 abandoned hardrock mine openings on the west face of the Wellsville and Wasatch mountain ranges in Box Elder, Weber and Davis counties. All the openings are located on private land and lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service. The project will secure abandoned mine openings using earthen backfills, steel grates, concrete block walls, and polyurethane foam plugs.
The Buckmaster-OIG Project is located in Emery County, north of I-70 and east of the East Reef of the San Rafael Swell in Buckmaster Draw. The project will close approximately 40 abandoned uranium mine openings within a portion of the San Rafael River mining district. All the mines in the project are located on lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and have been identified as high priority hazards to public safety by a directive from the U.S. Office of Inspector General (OIG). A second phase is planned to address the remaining abandoned mines in the district. Closure methods include earthen backfills, steel grates, and concrete block walls.
The White Canyon and Deer Flat Project proposes to safeguard 83 abandoned uranium mine openings and 30 vent holes in San Juan County. All the openings are located on public lands administered by the BLM and State Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA). Access to the mines will be on existing routes designated in the BLM Monticello Travel Management Plan, however, some work areas will require temporary use of old mine roads, which are not designated routes. Closure methods include earthen backfills, steel grates, polyurethane foam plugs, and concrete block walls.
Kent Phillips is a project manager for the Division’s Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program. He has been with the program for approximately two years. He works to reclaim and restore lands that were mined before the Surface Mining Control Reclamation Act of 1977 was passed. Since starting with the Division, he has overseen reclamation of several large projects including the $2 million dollar Kenilworth project and $230,000 Chief One Subsidence project in Eureka.
His position protects public safety by sealing off hazardous mines and addressing issues affecting the environment and resources. “Development is a necessary component of our society, albeit with inherent potential for significant impacts to the environment and public safety if carried out irresponsibly,” commented Kent. “I believe that abandoned mine lands have left us with prime examples of what exactly these potential impacts are if resource development is left unregulated.”
He says the best part of his job is working with a diverse array of stakeholders – from the public to government agencies across all levels, his knowledgeable co-workers, and private contractors and consultants.
Kent has a Bachelor of Science in Geology from Appalachian State University and a Master of Science in Mining Engineering from Virginia Tech University. Before joining the AMRP, he was a consultant at URS/AECOM consulting firm where he worked with program staff on reclamation projects.
In his free time, Kent enjoys rock climbing, snowboarding, and trail running with his dog Tommy.