Date of Award
Master of Science
Geography and Environmental Resources
TITLE: AN ASSESSMENT OF SURFACE MINE RECLAMATION AND THE MARKET POTENTIAL FOR FUTURE COAL MINING AND AGRICULTURE: ILLINOIS, USA MAJOR PROFESSOR: Dr. Jonathan W. F. RemoCoal has been an important economic driver in many communities throughout the state of Illinois. The exploitation of this fossil fuel resource has left 1,230 previously surface mined locations across the state. The surface mining technique employed to remove overburden, has disturbed land with agricultural value and lands that are currently under agricultural production. Despite the increase in renewable energy dependence, the likelihood exists that surface mining may continue. Therefore, this study was carried out to assess the conditions of reclaimed mines and to better define the tradeoffs between surface mining and agriculture. To accomplish this assessment, post-mining land use from remotely sensed data were evaluated to determine which mined areas returned to agricultural production upon cessation of mining activities. This assessment was undertaken to inform how much of future surface mined areas may be reclaimed and be put back into agricultural production in the future. Potential future mine areas were quantified in this study to evaluate the tradeoff between the onetime economic benefit of coal extraction and the value of continuously farming the land at least 150-years into the future without surface mining the coal. The value of coal was assessed by using the estimated coal reserve calculated by the Illinois Geologic Survey and then monetizing the market value of the reserve using projections from the United States Department of Commerce. The value of the agricultural lands which overly areas that could be surface mined in the future were assessed using the average value of the corn and soybeans produced on these lands. Comparison of the value of coal which could be surface mined from these agricultural lands with the value of the corn and soybean crops these lands could produce were used to inform the potential tradeoff between keeping these lands in agricultural production verses surface mining these areas. The assessment of mined and mineable areas revealed that 8% (1,182,400 ha) of Illinois has been surface mined with an additional 2% (295,800 ha) available for future utilization. The land cover analysis indicates that most reclamation surface mines (84%) are in non-agricultural land use. This suggests once an area is surface mined, they are not usually put back into agricultural production. Of the 295,800 ha of surface mineable coal reserves remaining in Illinois, 52% (151,000 ha) is currently in agricultural land use. The other surface mineable areas have forest, grassland, or open space land covers. The future surface mineable coal reserves in Illinois are estimated to be about 9 billion metric tons, worth $351 billion (2018 dollars). When taking on a profit perspective, I estimated annual revenue from surface coal mining in Illinois to be ~ $350 million annually where corn and soybeans would be between $157 and $183 million annually. These results suggest coal mining would be approximately double agricultural profits on an annual basis and consequently, the extraction of coal through surface mining in these areas would have more economical value for the current generation of landowners. However, over the long-term (>150 year using 2018 estimates of coal reserves and agricultural production) the agricultural production from these lands would surpass the current value of the coal, suggesting not strip mining these lands could provide greater value to future generations of Illinoisans.
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