Natural Resource Extraction

Natural Resource Extraction and NPS Pollution

An image representing the travel of wastewater Natural resource extraction includes activities dedicated to the recovery of sand, gravel, rock, oil, natural gas, and other natural materials that are obtained by excavation, drilling, boring, or other methods. In Massachusetts, sand and gravel mining and rock quarries are the most common resource extraction activities that contribute to NPS pollution.

Within this category, possible pathways for NPS to enter surface and groundwater include:
  • Surface Extraction Areas: These are gravel pits, surface mines, and similar areas. Exposed soil and mineral resources are subject to wind and water erosion. Both surface and groundwater hydrology may be changed due to these land use changes.
  • Processing Facilities: Sorting, washing, and other processing facilities or storage of extracted and waste resources may contribute dust and solids to nearby waterways.
  • Offshore Drilling Areas: These operations run the risk of releasing oil or related material to the offshore waters, thereby causing coastal pollution and marine fisheries habitat pollution.
NPS pollutants most commonly associated with resource extraction activities include the following:

Sediment: Resource extraction activities can result in exposed soil, steep embankments, and deep holes or ruts in the ground which leads to sedimentation. Sedimentation is the erosion of mineral or organic solid material acted upon by water, ice, wind, or other processes. Eroded sediments are then transported and deposited away from their original sources. This process can be detrimental to aquatic ecosystems in several ways, including the filling of lake bottoms, streambeds, or wetland pools. Sedimentation often results in the elimination of essential habitat and food sources, decreased water volume, increased turbidity (resulting in limited light penetration, higher temperatures, and lower dissolved oxygen), increased flooding, and decreased water supplies (USEPA, 1993).

Sand, gravel and crushed stone washing operations can be a significant source of sediment if not conducted properly. All sand or gravel washing and gravel sorting should be conducted in areas well removed from wetlands, surface waters and areas that flood. Proper sedimentation and erosion controls should be in place to ensure that gravel and wash water that is warm or sediment-laden cannot enter any surface water or wetland. Another sedimentation issue related to sand and gravel mining operations is vehicle washing and maintenance. Appropriate locations and standard operating procedures for vehicle washing should be established to prevent off-site transport and deposition of sediment.

Nutrients: Nutrients play an important role in aquatic ecosystems. Plant and animal life can be compromised when there is an increase in nutrient delivery to receiving waters. The abrupt and/or excessive removal of vegetation from resource extraction sites can increase leaching of nutrients from the soil into surface and groundwater, disrupting the nitrogen cycle. Excessive nutrient loads can greatly accelerate the process of eutrophication for water bodies. Eutrophication is the “aging” process that all water bodies undergo as they gradually become increasingly biologically productive and lose depth due to the build-up of sediment and organic matter. Algal blooms, associated with eutrophication, limit light penetration, increase turbidity, and can lead to low dissolved oxygen concentrations that are harmful to fish and other organisms (USEPA, 1993).

Chemicals: Pollution resulting from mining for a specific mineral is considered a point source pollutant discharge and is regulated under State and Federal National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 includes requirements for the collection of runoff from active mines and treatment of runoff for point source discharges. This is not to be confused with NPS pollution that occurs from resource extraction. NPS pollutants from resource extraction practices can include acid, salts, and metals. The contribution of these pollutants is often from inactive mine drainage and leachate, and from spoil and tailings piles from both active and inactive mines. These pollutants can result in adverse impacts including damage to fish spawning habitat and a reduction in aquatic food sources (invertebrates). NPS pollution from mining can also result in the bioaccumulation of metals in larger fish (LADEQ, 1993). It should also be noted that inactive mining and sand/gravel sites also have the potential to attract illegal dumping of materials that contribute polluted runoff to surface water and groundwater. Enforcement and proper closure of inactive sites should be addressed to prevent pollution related to illegal dumping.

Massachusetts and Federal Resource Extraction Resources

  • The Massachusetts Wellhead Protection Regulations at 310 CMR 22.21 (2) (b) 6 prohibits the sand, gravel and mineral extractions within four feet of the historic high groundwater elevation. Conditions for allowable extraction activities, including exemptions for building foundations and utility work are also provided in these regulations.

  • Both MassDEP and the USEPA regulate point source pollutant discharges associated with resource extraction operations. More information on these National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, regulated under the Clean Water Act, can be accessed at:

  • The Massachusetts Citizen Planner Training Collaborative (CPTC) is an excellent resource for information on bylaws related to resource extraction sites and a variety of other issues:

  • The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977:

  • The USEPA also established a Guidance Specifying Management Measures for Sources of Nonpoint Pollution in Coastal Waters, which established a management measure and best management practices for resource extraction NPS pollution control.

  • The National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association provides guidance and training to the industry on NPS controls and other environmental issues.

Best Management Practices for Resource Extraction

There are three primary BMPs that are applicable to natural resource extraction in Massachusetts: sand and gravel operations guidelines, land reclamation, and sediment basins. Other BMPs related to resource extraction that are not discussed in section, such as anoxic limestone drains and open limestone channels, are practices that are typically employed in states that have or have had extensive coal mining (e.g., Pennsylvania).

Fact Sheet Links

Click the links below for information on BMPs:

Link to BMP Fact Sheet menu
BMP Fact Sheets – Resource Extraction
Sand and Gravel Operations Guidelines
Land Reclamation
Sediment Forebay
Wet Basin