Characterization of strip coal mining operations in southeast Kansas and western Wyoming using remote sensing

Liz Coffey, Jue Jiang, Brandon Milner, & Matt Randall

Fall 2010

ES771 Remote Sensing

Dr. James S. Aber, Instructor

Table of Contents

Strip Coal Mine operations
Southeast Kansas
Western Wyoming
Closing a mine/Environmental impact and remediation


Coal mining is an important industry to drives the energy rush of the world. This is either done by surface or underground mining. The occurence of surface mining of coal has substantially become safer and more widespread over the past century within the United States. Surface mining is initated by a company filing a permit to mine within an area. Within the permit there should be a plan to close the mine when the time comes. The area is then mined by removing the topsoil from the area to reach the shallow beds of coal. After the mine is closed the land must be restored to a natural state. The mining area would be remediated like a wetland area until ten years have passed before the area can be opened up to the public. In Kansas, the trench areas created by mining are filled with water and other areas must be restored with vegetation. The effects strip mining can be seen on the Earth's surface using remote sensing. Large mines can be seen from the more current Wyoming mining areas compared to the former mining areas of southeast Kansas. Traces of past mining in the southeast Kansas can also be seen with remote sensing.

Opening, Expanding, and Maintaining a strip coal mine


Wyoming is the leading coal-producing State in the United States. The majority of Wyoming's coal is mined in the Powder River Basin which is located in northeastern Wyoming. Only a few mines are located in the central and southwest regions. Thirteen active coal mines, including the largest US coal mine, Black Thunder, are located in the Wyoming portion of the Powder River Basin (BLM). Wyoming reserves consist of bituminous and sub-bituminous low-sulfur coal, which is with high energy content and less harmful to the environment, and almost all the coal is extracted from surface mining, which enables lower production costs (Detweiler and Yu, 1998).

Kansas started shallow coal mining in the 1850's in Leavenworth County, Kansas; strip mines were opened in the 1870's in Bourbon, Cherokee and Crawford counties, southeastern Kansas; from 1885 to 1969, coal was also mined in Osage County, eastern Kansas. Underground mining was preferred in southeastern Kansas from 1874 to 1960, while strip mining once again became the principal method of coal mining in southeastern Kansas in the 1930's, because most of Kansas's coal is thin. Nowadays, Kansas's only active coal mines are located in southern Linn County, eastern Kansas (Brosius, 2005).

Surface mining and underground mining are two major methods of coal mining. Both Wyoming and Kansas exploit coal predominantly from surface mining. Strip mining is one of the most economic ways of surface mining along with being one of the safest types of mining in general.

Surface Coal Mining Process

The first step of opening a coal mine is to acquire a coal mining permit by preparing a mining plan and a mine closure and restoration plan (Coal Mining and Production, 1998). In Wyoming, the Land Quality Division within the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality issues the permit (LQD, 2010); whereas in Kansas, the Surface Mining Section of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment's Bureau of Environmental Remediation is responsible for the issuance of the permit. With the permit, the mining company can mark the boundaries and post a mine identification sign. Then sediment ponds are built to control water runoff and sediment that may contain contamination from mining (Bohnet and Kunze,1990, P491).

To continue surface mining, the topsoil and overburden should be removed. The topsoil is removed by scrapers and piled up for later use. Then the overburden is removed by draglines with a start of digging a box-shaped pit. Usually the overburden is blasted to fracture the bedrock. The blasting loosens up the bedrock. The overburden removed from the first pit is stockpiled, and the exposed coal seam is drilled and mined in strips. The mined coal is then transported by large trucks or conveyors to a coal preparation plant to remove impurities. Overburden from the next pit is placed in the previous pit as this process continues until all the permitted area is mined. The last pit is filled by the overburden from the first pit. The land should be shaped as close as it is used to be, then the topsoil is replaced, and the land is vegetated. The reclamation is monitored and maintained for several years before the land is returned to the landowner's control (The Mining Process, 2008).


The remote sensing associated with this project was found in three main places. The location maps are from the DASC website where shapefiles can be downloaded and altered within ArcMap. The base images for the other images are from the Earthexplorer and Glovis programs within the USGS. The maps from the DASC website were imported into the Arcmap program and zoomed in to the appropriate area. Images from Eros and Glovis were imported into the Idrisi program. False color composites were made from different variation of bands from the images such as using the standard 2,3,4 bands. Cluster analysis was made using the 7 bands and then assigned values to the clusters that were associated with the mines.

Southeast Kansas operations

Figures 1-2. These two images represent the study area for this project. Figure 1 on the left side is showing where the mining area is within the state of Kansas. Figure 2 on the right side is showing the area within Cherokee and Crawford counties where the mining was present. (Images are from DASC website, 2010)

Figures 3-5. These three images represent different combinations of bands that can be used to intrepret this area. Figure 3 at the top left uses Landsat bands 2,3,4. The strip pit mining areas can be seen by the linear water features and darker red color that represents the natural vegetation in the area. Figure 4 at the top right uses Landsat band 3,4,5. The strip pit mining areas can be seen with the linear water features and a dark green color. Figure 5 at the bottom uses Landsat bands 2,5,7. The strip pit mining areas can be seen by the linear water features and dark green colors seen around the linear water features. (Glovis, 2010)

Figure 6. An isoclust analysis program was used and the following image represents the different clusters formed. Each cluster can identify a different type of land use.

Figure 7.After the isoclust analysis, an assign operation was used to isolate cluster 3 which would represent the strip pit mining areas. The rectangular boxes represent the areas of intense mining.

Northeastern Wyoming operations

Figure 8 Image on the right is an example of what is seen in the Wyoming mining area by vast deposits of coal in the area. (Wyoming Coal, 2001)

Figure 9. This image is a reference location for where the two images were acquired from. The red balloon shows the location of Gillette, Wyoming while the green mask shows the location of the image before processing. (EROS, 2010)

Figure 10/ Image from 1979

Figure 11/ Image from 2010

The 1979 image was created by a Multi-Spectral Scanner, Band 1. The 2010 image was created by the Landsat Thematic Mapper, Band 2. These are the bands each system which detect green reflectance. To create each image we began by searching for overlapping footprints of suitable, clear images. We then downloaded, extracted and imported them into Idrisi. From there we reformatted the windows of the respective Bands for the area of interest and adjusted the display values to create a dynamic scene of the mines. It is obvious that mining in this part of Wyoming has seen significant growth. (Images from EROS, 2010)

Closing a Mine/Environmental impact and remediation

Eventually all mining activities within a region cease to exist based on the availability of coal within the area compared with the cost effectiveness of the mining operation which extracts the coal. When a mining area no longer can be profitable by extracting the coal, the mine is shut down. Restoration efforts must be put in place after a mine closes. This would include restoring the area to conditions prior to the mining.

United States surface coal mining operations is governed by a law called the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). Passed in 1977, its main purpose is to establish how surface coal mines must reclaim the land which is removed during mining. When the coal is removed, the overburden is put where the coal used to be. Topsoil is replaced on top of the overburden to then be re-planted. Many types of seeds are planted during the spring and fall months of the year. Livestock graze the land after a minimum of three years and after ten years the area can be opened for public use. (Wyoming Coal, 2010)

In Wyoming, habitats are created after mines are remediated like wetlands. Recyled items are used to create goose nesting sites. Prairie lands are also created in Wyoming. In Kansas, lands are returned to their native vegetation and the trenches created during mining are filled with water. After 1969, more stringent laws were in place that ensured the reclamation of the lands. The ditches had to be smoothed out and replace the topsoil and reseed.

Many success stories have been published for both states. In Indiana, the Sunshine Coal Mine in the city of Bicknell was an underground shaft mine that was abandoned in the 1960's.


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Brosius, L. 2005. Coal Mining in Kansas. [Accessed Dec. 03, 2010]

Bureau of Land Management. 2010. Powder River Basin Coal. [Accessed December 4, 2010]

Data Access and Support Center, 2010. County Boundaries, Kansas Geological Survey. [Accessed November 16, 2010]

Detweiler, G. and X. Yu. 1998. Wyoming Mining Industry: An In-Depth Anaylsis. [Accessed December 4, 2010]

Eros, 2010. Earthexplorer. [Accessed December 6th, 2010]

Glovis, 2010. Earth resources observation and science center, United States Geological Survey. [Accessed November 16th, 2010]

Kansas Department of Health and Environment. 2010. Surface Mining Section. [Accessed December 4, 2010]

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The Mining Process. 2008.Oklahoma Department of Mines. [Accessed December 4, 2010]

Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. 2010. About Land Quality Department (LQD) [Accessed December 4, 2010]

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World Coal Association. 2010. Coal Mining and the Environment. [Accessed December 4, 2010]

Wyoming Coal, 2001. Wyoming Mining Association. [Accessed December 12th, 2010]

ES 771 Remote Sensing

Emporia State University (2010).