Surface mining | Oklahoma Impact State


Kevin Blackwood / Arbuckle-Karst Conservatory

East Central University undergraduate Lindsey Thompson searches for artifacts in the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer.

The Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer in south-central Oklahoma is considered one of the most sensitive water resources in the state.

It’s because no river or stream is flowing in the aquifer; They only come out. So the only way to replenish the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer is to infiltrate surface rainwater over decades or centuries.

Tens of thousands of Oklahomans depend on the Arbuckle-Simpson for water in cities like Sulfur, Ada, Ardmore and Durant.

All this use puts pressure on the aquifer. Use, misuse, and drought all affect the level of the aquifer and the rivers and streams it feeds, endangering the water supply to residents of these communities.

The impact of surface mining

One of the most controversial uses of aquifer water is limestone and sand mining, which collectively uses millions of gallons of Arbuckle-Simpson.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

After this quarry near a silica sand mining operation in the United States was mined, water from the light blue aquifer filled it.

Arbuckle-Simpson limestone is one of the best in the world, and companies from surrounding states, especially Texas, and even some international companies come to mine it. They do this by digging pits over a quarter of a mile wide and hundreds of feet deep in the aquifer.

But all the while, water is trying to seep into the pit from the bottom and sides, and it must be constantly pumped out to keep the hole dry. When a mining operation eventually abandons a pit, it fills to the brim with water from the aquifer to create a small lake. It is water that is no longer in the aquifer and subject to evaporation.

Global effect

Until 2013, there were very few rules on mining in the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer, and none on what to do with any excess groundwater produced during the mining process. Some companies simply dump it on the ground, while others recycle it by putting it in a nearby stream or recharge ponds designed to replenish the aquifer.

Additionally, unlike many other states, Oklahoma does not levy separation or gross production taxes on the removal of a number of minerals from the soil, including limestone and sand. And since much of the limestone is sent out of state for sale, communities in Oklahoma derive very little direct income from the presence of the operations.

It’s a great location for limestone and sand businesses, but many local residents outright hate that the industry is depleting their water source, tearing up roads, and flying off with Oklahoma’s resources to sell. elsewhere.

Fight against waste

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

The source of “Little Niagara” in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area is the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer. Currently, the falls are not flowing.

Change is coming, however. After hearing public comment, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board finalized new regulations on Arbuckle-Simpson miners that will require them to report the amount of water diverted from the aquifer and implement a recycling plan if they use more than their fair share. .

A company’s fair share of aquifer water is currently being determined.

Another change could come in the form of a measure like the House Bill 1876, which would allow counties to impose a separation tax on the removal of aggregate, such as limestone and sand.

HB 1876 likely won’t be heard this session, although supporters agree to keep trying. A similar measure tabled this session in the Senate failed.

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