Published on
April 30, 2021

The Potential of eDNA in Biden’s Plan for Restoration of ‘orphaned’ Mines

Biden's $16 billion proposal to plug old oil and gas wells and clean up abandoned mines would jump-start and significantly expand abandoned mine and well site rehabilitation efforts. eDNA is a powerful and innovative tool that can help inform the restoration process.

 min read
The Potential of eDNA in Biden’s Plan for Restoration of ‘orphaned’ Mines

DNA-based tools can transform the way we carry out restoration for abandoned mines.

President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion plan to transform America’s infrastructure includes $16 billion to plug old oil and gas wells and clean up abandoned mines, a long-standing goal for lawmakers from both the West and rural areas.  To spend this and other mine restoration money well, a data driven approach coupled with adaptive management can transform outcomes. Hundreds of thousands of “orphaned” oil and gas wells, as well as abandoned coal and hard-rock mines, are posing significant safety risks and wreaking havoc on the environment across the US and globally. Biden has seen the long-standing issue as an opportunity to create jobs and reduce pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions that lead to global warming.

NatureMetric’s cutting-edge DNA-based tools enable large scale monitoring of biodiversity from bacteria to blue whales.

This comprehensive data can show movements of the site towards or away from the ‘ideal’ ecosystem condition. Simple sampling solutions on site mean that monitoring can be carried out more cheaply, safely and regularly providing big data sets with accurate identification of organisms from multiple taxonomic groups and, therefore, analyses that can inform important decisions about how to expend precious resources to get the most benefit for people, climate and nature.

Abandoned mine land rehabilitation can be customised to the individual needs of each site. The protocols and methods used in each case should be focused on a strategy that addresses both the diagnosed deterioration and the site’s planned end state. The most critical issue to address before the process can begin is surveying the mining sites’ existing biodiversity and the biodiversity of appropriate reference sites to establish a baseline that indicates the state of the surrounding biodiversity. That reference site can be used to monitor the progress and effectiveness of restoration efforts. eDNA is a powerful and innovative tool that can help inform the restoration process. This modern method of environmental sampling is a repeatable, standardised, and objective way to quantify biodiversity and obtain large quantities of data that can be used to make the best decisions while designing conservation plans and tracking their progress.

Figure 1. Schematic ordination plot showing the similarity of communities sampled in control and target habitats. The arrow indicates the expected direction of movement of the focal communities, which become more like the target communities over time. See text for further explanation.

Mining companies have already begun to adopt the use of eDNA to manage biodiversity risks throughout project operational life cycles. Anglo American announced they were ‘adopting the use of eDNA to meet targeted and measurable environmental goals, as part of [their] Sustainable Mining Plan, and commitments to achieving a net positive impact on global biodiversity.’ They were pleased with the impact of its use in their projects, stating, ‘Using DNA-based tools, from biotechnology experts NatureMetrics, is revolutionising how we are able to evaluate risk and meet – or even exceed – environmental regulations, monitor progress towards biodiversity targets, as well as reducing monitoring cost and efforts.’

The benefits of these DNA based tools aren’t just limited to current mining projects. There are many ways this innovative technology could add value to efforts to rehabilitating abandoned mining sites. eDNA detects species in the area without requiring their presence in physical samples – so it is non-invasive, while allowing rare, obscure, or cryptic taxa to be discovered. Sampling water and soil from around the orphaned mining site would be sufficient to provide vast quantities of data on the area’s biodiversity, guiding the restoration process.

NatureMetric’s DNA Metabarcoding analysis can process a wide range of samples in parallel at large scales, delivering critical ecological data much faster than conventional approaches, which is critical for maintaining successful long-term and routine monitoring. Therefore, these tools are instrumental to restoration efforts because they enable them to monitor the effects of rehabilitation techniques.

One of the huge benefits of DNA-based monitoring is the ease with which anyone can gather data. This democratisation of biodiversity data can efficiently get the information into the hands of those that need it. Our eDNA sampling kits are portable and come with clear easy to understand instructions. The simplicity means that large scale data gathering projects can be delivered with citizen scientists proactively. This is a significant advantage as it could create jobs in the local communities that have been affected by the abandoned mines as it doesn’t require a specialist. Anyone can be easily trained up to be able to take these samples. The use of eDNA tools would provide restoration projects with the potential to address corporate social investment.

The rehabilitation of abandoned mines is hampered by a lack of rehabilitation criteria and standards. Landscape degradation is still one of the most serious environmental consequences of surface mines and quarries. As a result, it is critical that we begin to measure and monitor their effects; data from long-term biodiversity monitoring in projects like these will help inform critical restoration decisions in the future.

To see how NatureMetrics are already putting these DNA-based solutions into practice with projects in the extractives sector around the globe, check out our articles and updates in the NatureMetrics info hub.

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