Surface Mining

The Surface Mining and Reclamation Division of the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) is authorized to enforce state laws and regulations consistent with the Texas Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act and the Texas Uranium Surface Mining and Reclamation Act. As part of the groundwater information required in the Regulations, determination of the quality of subsurface water includes the analysis of common inorganic groundwater constituents plus certain trace metals. Monitoring plans for pre-mining, mining, and post-mining conditions are required, normally on a three-month basis, in order to track variations in water-quality parameters.

Surface mining requires groundwater monitoring at many stages. Groundwater monitoring, both sampling for water-quality analysis and measurement of water level, is required for one year on a quarterly basis for the baseline information that is submitted with the initial permit application. In addition, the mining companies are required to submit plans for quarterly groundwater monitoring during mining and post-mining reclamation activities for RRC review and approval. Monitoring is done by or on behalf of the mining companies, which are required to submit the analytical results to the RRC on a quarterly basis.

Various commercial laboratories perform chemical analyses for the mining companies and some have in-house laboratories. The RRC has no control over the actual sampling and sample preparation procedures, except to recommend generally accepted procedures (USEPA, USGS, etc.). Therefore, the RRC has no direct control over the quality of the chemical analyses reported by the companies. Methods for evaluating the results of chemical analyses (ionic balance) are being exercised by the mining companies and the RRC.

Monitoring by the RRC is generally conducted only during investigations for some specific reason, such as water-quality complaints.The RRC no longer maintains a laboratory, and chemical and physical analysis of samples collected by enforcement personnel are sent to a commercial laboratory under contract with the Division. Typically about 10-20 contamination complaints are investigated annually by RRC field personnel. To date, investigations have not borne out any confirmed contamination cases.

There have been no confirmed contamination cases in the Surface Mining and Reclamation Program. Groundwater impacts related to the initial and current mining activities are almost totally associated with aquifer-head drawdowns and declines. It may take years to decades for the spoils areas to become re-saturated and the groundwater contributions from the spoils areas to start affecting adjacent aquifers and stream baseflow. At that time, the preventive nature of the RRC permitting and enforcement activities should minimize the type of groundwater contamination expected from the spoils areas.

Sand and gravel pits are regulated from a safety aspect by the RRC if the pit is located within 200 feet of a public roadway. Mining and reclamation of these pits are not regulated under State law. If the sand or gravel operations will affect groundwater quality, have a surface-water discharge or create a point-source air discharge, the operation may be regulated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

Solution Mining

Underground injection is the technology of placing fluids underground, in porous formations of rocks, through wells or other similar conveyance systems. In mining operations, fluids can be injected into the ground to dissolve substances and then sucked back up to be used for industrial purposes. The RRC regulates brine mining operations and injection wells. TCEQ regulates disposal by underground injection.