NR 2009-09
May 4, 2009

Contact: Ed Wilson
              Don Drysdale

Recent and Ongoing Abandoned Mine Remediation Projects


SACRAMENTO – Dozens of people are killed or injured each year in the United States in accidents involving active or abandoned mines. California is no exception, and as warm weather approaches, the Office of Mine Reclamation (OMR) urges those who enjoy outdoor recreation such as off-trail riding to use caution.

"There are thousands of abandoned mines throughout the state, and many of them present falling or other hazards to the unwary,” said Dennis O’Bryant, head of California’s Office of Mine Reclamation (OMR).  “We don’t mean to discourage folks from exploring – whether on foot, off-road vehicle or horseback – the desert areas of Southern California or the gold country in northern California.

However, people should be aware of their surroundings and pay attention to posted safety warning signs.”
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has launched its annual “Stay Out, Stay Alive” public safety campaign. During the campaign, which runs through May 23, MSHA officials will be spreading their safety message nationwide. In California, among other activities, MSHA and OMR will host an informational booth at the Spring Fair in Ridgecrest May 14-17.

Since 1999, approximately 300 people have died in recreational accidents at surface and underground active and abandoned operations across the country. Last year, 29 people ranging in age from five to 70 were fatally injured on mine property; another 19 people were involved in incidents that could have resulted in a fatality, but did not. In California, 42 incidents involving 13 deaths, 32 injuries or near-misses, and 13 pet or other animal rescues have been reported since 1999. At least a dozen incidents, including four fatalities, involved off-road vehicle recreation.

Last month, the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) received a report of a man surviving a fall into a 40- to 60-foot-deep shaft in the Jawbone Off-Highway Vehicle Open Area, a popular destination for off-roaders in Kern County. 

“We have many accounts of people on motorcycles and ATVs out having fun, going full speed over a rise and discovering a gaping mine shaft below them when they come down,” said Cy Oggins, manager of OMR’s Abandoned Mine Lands Unit (AMLU). “Unfortunately, not all of them miss the shaft.  Often, the areas that are most attractive to riders and other outdoor explorers are some of the most dangerous. The old saying `look before you leap’ is good advice when it comes to having a good time in old mining areas.”

California has about 1,400 active and idle mines and OMR estimates that there are 47,000 abandoned mines in the state.
AMLU began funding abandoned mine remediation projects on California’s public lands in 2002 and has now remediated more than 550 hazardous mine features.  Methods used include: bat-compatible gates, cupolas, and culverts; polyurethane foam (PUF); backfills; wire fences; capping; and removal of hazardous debris.

Remediation work to protect public safety has or will be taking place at several California abandoned mines in April and May, including two projects each in Riverside and Kern counties as well as projects in Orange, Santa Cruz, Sacramento and Trinity counties.

“Staying out of the abandoned mines that agencies and other landowners have not addressed yet can be a life-saving move,” Oggins said.

About abandoned mines

Aside from the obvious falling hazards, dangers associated with abandoned mines include unstable walls or structures that can collapse at a touch; dark, twisting tunnels in which an explorer can become lost; disease-carrying, predatory or poisonous animals which sometimes make old mines their homes; old explosives; drums of chemicals; exposure to toxics; and poisonous gases or low oxygen levels.

There is no comprehensive database that gives the precise location of most of California’s abandoned mines or their underground workings.  Many operated before the advent of any regulatory or reporting authority, or even statehood itself. Each mine may have multiple man-made “features,” such as shafts, tunnels, machinery, facilities or piles of waste rock that can pose either a physical or environmental hazard.

AMLU encourages anyone who discovers an abandoned mine in California to call its hotline, 1-877-OLD-MINE.