From tunnel collapses to fires, mining accidents are tragically frequent. But the cleanup
projects that follow the end of mining operations, even if decades later, are proving to be
fraught with danger as well. While a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) remediation project team excavated an abandoned gold mine last August in mountainous Colorado,
USA, a portion of the mine’s bedrock face broke apart and released about 3 million gallons
(11 million liters) of acidic water that had been trapped in the mine into local rivers. The
cleanup effort continued through the first quarter of this year.
For project managers working on mine remediation initiatives, risks include the handling and disposing of toxic materials, the unpredictable nature of project sites and long
project schedules (sometimes 40 years or more). The projects can be complicated by a
stakeholder landscape crowded with government agencies and concerned local residents.
The fact that remediation projects are usually underground makes it tough for team
members to identify and evaluate potential problems, says Elizabeth Shaeffer, senior environmental protection specialist, office of surface mining reclamation and enforcement,
western region, U.S. Department of the Interior, Denver, Colorado, USA. “Historic underground mine maps sometimes don’t tell the complete story. Some maps are much more
Settling ponds at Cement Creek in
Silverton, Colorado, USA help reduce the
acidity of mining wastewater.
“As a project
have to be able
to respond to
—Elizabeth Shaeffer, U.S.
Department of the Interior,
Denver, Colorado, USA