Analyses of the surface effects of past underground coal mining in the Sheridan, Wyoming, area suggest that underground mining of strippable coal deposits may damage the environment more over long periods of time than would modern surface mining, provided proper restoration procedures are followed after surface mining. Subsidence depressions and pits are a continuing hazard to the environment and to man's activities in the Sheridan, Wyo., area above abandoned underground mines in weak overburden less than about 60 m thick and where the overburden is less than about 10-15 times the thickness of coal mined. In addition, fires commonly start by spontaneous ignition when water and air enter the abandoned mine workings via subsidence cracks and pits. The fires can then spread to unmined coal as they create more cavities, more subsidence, and more cracks and pits through which air can circulate.
In modern surface mining operations the total land surface underlain by minable coal is removed to expose the coal. The coal is removed, the overburden and topsoil are replaced, and the land is regraded and revegetated. The land, although disturbed, can be more easily restored and put back into use than can land underlain by abandoned underground mine workings in areas where the overburden is less than about 60 m thick or less than about 10-15 times the thickness of coal mined. The resource recovery of modern surface mining commonly is much greater than that of underground mining procedures. Although present-day underground mining technology is advanced as compared to that of 25-80 years ago, subsidence resulting from underground mining of thick coal beds beneath overburden less than about 60 m thick can still cause greater damage to surface drainage, ground water, and vegetation than can properly designed surface mining operations.
This report discusses (11 the geology and surface and underground effects of former large-scale underground coal mining in a 50-km 2 area 5-20 km north of Sheridan, Wyo., (2) a ground and aerial reconnaissance study of a 5-km^2 coal mining area 8-10 km west of Sheridan, and (31 some environmental consequences and problems caused by coal mining.