From the 1890s through the 1970s the Picher mining district in northeastern Ottawa County, Oklahoma, was the site of mining and processing of lead and zinc ore. When mining ceased in about 1979, as much as 165–300 million tons of mine tailings, locally referred to as “chat,” remained in the Picher mining district. Since 1979, some chat piles have been mined for aggregate materials and have decreased in volume and mass. Currently (2013), the land surface in the Picher mining district is covered by thousands of acres of chat, much of which remains on Indian trust land owned by allottees. The Bureau of Indian Affairs manages these allotted lands and oversees the sale and removal of chat from these properties. To help the Bureau of Indian Affairs better manage the sale and removal of chat, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, estimated the 2005 and 2010 volumes and masses of selected chat piles remaining on allotted lands in the Picher mining district. The U.S. Geological Survey also estimated the changes in volume and mass of these chat piles for the period 2005 through 2010.
The 2005 and 2010 chat-pile volume and mass estimates were computed for 34 selected chat piles on 16 properties in the study area. All computations of volume and mass were performed on individual chat piles and on groups of chat piles in the same property. The Sooner property had the greatest estimated volume (4.644 million cubic yards) and mass (5.253 ± 0.473 million tons) of chat in 2010. Five of the selected properties (Sooner, Western, Lawyers, Skelton, and St. Joe) contained estimated chat volumes exceeding 1 million cubic yards and estimated chat masses exceeding 1 million tons in 2010. Four of the selected properties (Lucky Bill Humbah, Ta Mee Heh, Bird Dog, and St. Louis No. 6) contained estimated chat volumes of less than 0.1 million cubic yards and estimated chat masses of less than 0.1 million tons in 2010. The total volume of all selected chat piles was estimated to be 18.073 million cubic yards in 2005 and 16.171 million cubic yards in 2010. The total mass of all selected chat piles was estimated to be 20.445 ± 1.840 million tons in 2005 and 18.294 ± 1.646 million tons in 2010.
All of the selected chat piles decreased in volume and mass for the period 2005 through 2010. Chat piles CP022 (Ottawa property) and CP013 (Sooner property) had some within-property chat-pile redistribution, with both chat piles having net decreases in volume and mass for the period 2005 through 2010. The Sooner property and the St. Joe property had the greatest volume (and mass) changes, with 1.266 million cubic yards and 0.217 million cubic yards (1.432 ± 0.129 million tons and 0.246 ± 0.022 million tons) of chat being removed, respectively. The chat removed from the Sooner and St. Joe properties accounts for about 78 percent of the chat removed from all selected chat piles and properties. The total volume and mass removed from all selected chat piles for the period 2005 through 2010 were estimated to be 1.902 million cubic yards and 2.151 ± 0.194 million tons, respectively.