I recently heard that the National Mine Map Repository, the Federal office in charge of collecting and archiving mine maps, was being slated for “realignment” (or more specifically, the parent Office of Surface Mining (OSM) is being considered for such). This possibly involves merging it with another agency, absorbing it’s functions into another office, or closing it altogether.
While I’m usually in favor of cuts to government spending, and I know everyone has their own pet programs that they swear are vital to truth, justice and the American way, cutting the NMMR seems particularly ill-advised. A program to document forgotten underground spaces may not seem important to you… until you realize you live above such an underground space. Off the top of my head, I can think of several cities and towns with mines beneath them. Detroit, Tulsa, Cleveland, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Springfield, etc.
And here are some examples of what happens when builders, drillers, local officials, and the public don’t realize what’s under them:
Lake Peigneur, Louisiana, 1980: an oil well drilled through a lake into a salt mine, flooding the mine and creating a massive whirlpool, destroying the mine, the oil well, 65 acres of land, and altering the biology and chemistry of the lake: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Peigneur
Quecreek Mine, Pennsylvania: Miners in an active tunnel accidentally drill into an abandoned, flooded mine, causing the active mine to flood and necessitating a dramatic rescue:
Centralia, PA: A garbage fire worked its way into underground coal mines and remained burning for decades, eventually resulting in the evacuation and destruction of an entire town: http://www.offroaders.com/album/centralia/405_Report.htm
And on a more personal note for people living above mines, here are a few results from Googling “mine subsidence” and “Mine collapse”:
After hearing of the possible changes facing the NMMR, I wrote the following letter to my congresspeople. I’m also trying to find contacts more directly involved in the process to forward my concerns to.
I would like to express my concern over a possible management re-alignment of the National Mine Map Repository, part of the Office of Surface Mining. As you may be aware, the NMMR collects, archives, and distributes maps of underground mines across the United States. To my knowledge, no other agency, public or private, has a similar mission. I am concerned that a possible merger with the BLM or other agency may de-fund or eliminate the NMMR, which would negatively impact public and industry safety.
The NMMR provides an important resource for many different interest groups, including government agencies, private companies, and the public. Anyone building a structure or road in a historic mining area needs to know what subsurface hazards exist. Map availability is also important for the mining industry, as abandoned or forgotten workings can become flooded, filled with dangerous gas, or otherwise interfere with active workings, as occurred at the Quecreek mine in 2002. Failure to properly identify and locate underground voids from mining can, and does, result in property damage, injuries or deaths, and contamination of water resources. When workers become trapped or individuals become lost or injured in a mine, accurate maps are vital for fast and safe rescues. In the most extreme cases, ignorance of mine locations has resulted in widespread destruction, such as the coal mine fire in Centralia, PA and Louisiana’s Lake Peigneur incident of 1980.
I have personally used the National Mine Map Repository on several occasions, both in a professional and personal setting. I have also donated materials to the NMMR that I come across in the course of my work. In the real estate field, knowing the location of underground mines is crucial for due diligence, environmental assessments, and property valuation. While hunting and hiking recreationally, I have on occasion used the NMMR to locate hazardous areas which are not marked or fenced. I know all too well the scenario of encountering an open mine shaft or collapsed area in the midst of thick brush. I have personally observed unmarked mine shafts “sealed” with everything from old box springs, to plastic tarps covered in dirt, to rotting logs, all of which need only an unsuspecting person to walk across them to create a tragedy.
As I mentioned, I do not know of another agency providing services similar to the NMMR. In my experience, state and local knowledge is patchy at best, and policy on abandoned mines varies widely by location and agency. If the NMMR is de-funded or shut down, what will be the alternative for collecting, preserving, and distributing these maps? Private mining companies have no incentive to preserve or publicize maps once a mine is shut down, and may be hesitant to share proprietary information. Very old mine maps may exist only in private collections, decaying or being discarded over time. Local agencies usually have little to no funding for this issue. Local libraries and museums may collect some maps, but are difficult and time-consuming to use. The NMMR provides a standard one-stop location for mine maps that is accessible to anyone, collects documents from a wide range of sources, and is fast, easy, and effective in responding to data requests.
I urge you to support the continued operation and funding of the National Mine Map Repository. This is a vitally important agency serving everyone from state and local governments, to industry, to the public, and its loss would be detrimental to the safety of many workers, property owners, and businesses.
I think I’ll try to find some photos of some of those dodgy mine-sealing techniques if I can dig them out of my files!