Missouri might have as many as 5,000 abandoned coal mines and the Department of Natural Resources wants to find them.

DNR will use money from the Interior Department to locate maps of abandoned coal mines to make as complete as possible the inventory of Missouri mines.

“Missouri has a significant amount of coal resources,” State Geologist Joe Gillman tells the Missourinet. “Since the 1840s, our information suggests there may be upwards of 5,000 abandoned coal mines in the state of Missouri. Many of these are underground mines.”

Gillman says that Missouri became the first state west of the Mississippi River to mine coal commercially. Mining began in 1840. It ended in 1969, when the last underground coal mine in the state closed. Missouri coal contains too much sulfur to meet modern emission standards. The state’s coal region stretched from the southwestern portion of Missouri to the Kansas City area into northern and northeastern Missouri. Gillman says size and use of the mines varied greatly.

“Many of these mines are very shallow, maybe only as deep as 50 feet. However, we have evidence that others were as deep as 500 feet,” according to Gillman.

Some of the mines produced coal for personal use, such as for a family blacksmith operation or simply to provide heat for the home or farm. Others branched into small, commercial operations.

The Division of Geology and Land Survey in Rolla has about a thousand coal mine maps. Gillman hopes the public will come forward with maps now in the hands of families or private businesses.

“Understanding where these mines are located and understanding the extent of these mines will help us to complete a better inventory of the mine networks to provide that to developers, to landowners to businesses who might need that information,” Gillman says.

Maps donated or loaned to the state will be scanned at high resolution, color, archive quality images. They will add to the national inventory of Missouri mine lands once an electronic file is sent to the Office of Surface Mining in Pennsylvania for inclusion in the National Mine Map Repository.

Safety concerns drive the effort. An abandoned coal mine might go undetected for decades, until a collapse makes its discovery a tragedy.

Gillman says locating the maps provide a side benefit as well. They will give a bit of insight into the history of the state.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [1:15 MP3]