Surface Mining (The Past)

More than 200 million years ago, in the age of reptiles, carbonaceous material was deposited that developed into the bituminous coal of North-Central Texas -- coal that was mined from the 1880s through the 1980s near Thurber. Lignite and cannel coal was deposited about 45 million years ago.

In the 1880s and 1890s, some 15,000 tons of coal a year were mined in Texas. The coal and lignite was used to power cotton gins, brickworks, railroads, and steam power plants with energy. As early as 1889, geologists for the Texas Geological Survey reported the location of eight mines in the north-central bituminous coal region. Within several years, lignite mining was taking place in 12 east and south Texas counties. By the turn of the century, the University of Texas reported 32 mines in 24 mining areas were producing coal and lignite.

By the 1920s, throughout the United States, natural gas and oil had begun to replace the use of coal. However, the 1926 opening of the Malakoff Mine in Henderson demonstrated the economical use of lignite as fuel in electric generating plants. But, by the 1940s, a switch to newly available and inexpensive natural gas to fuel electric plants once again lessened the demand for lignite.

The 1950s were significant for mining in Texas when an aluminum smelter opened at the Sandow lignite mine near Rockdale, and uranium ore was discovered in South Texas. By the late 1950s, uranium ore mining had begun in Live Oak and Karnes Counties.

During the 1970s, increasing energy costs for natural gas and oil spurred an increased demand for lignite as fuel for electric generation plants. At the time the Surface Mining and Reclamation Division was formed in January 1976, there were 28 uranium ore mines, and Texas lignite production had reached 14 million tons per year from eight mines in six counties, providing about nine percent of the state's electrical generating power.

Last Updated: 7/20/2015 12:17:55 PM