Lead and Zinc
Lead and zinc ores were discovered in the Ottawa County region of northeastern Oklahoma in 1904. Rapid development of these resources and those in neighboring Kansas and Missouri made the Tri-State Mining District the leading producer of lead and zinc in the world.
Although a minor resurgence in production occurred just before and during the Second World War, the lead and zinc mining industries were never able to again come close to the boom of the 1920's. Declining world prices forced a temporary shutdown of the field in 1959 and 1960; the mines were permanently closed in October, 1970.
During the years of production, Oklahoma mines produced 1.3 million tons of recoverable lead and 5.2 million tons of recoverable zinc. The lead and zinc mines of the Tri-State district operated with the room-and-pillar method of mining; many of the rooms were as much as sixty feet in height with only a thin roof of rock separating them from the surface.
Some of the contaminated waters from the mines have seeped into the drinking water and surface water systems of the area.
In almost every year from 1918 until 1945, Oklahoma led the world in the production of zinc. The greatest production levels were reached shortly after the discovery of the ore bodies at Picher in 1914; production highs for both lead and zinc mining industries were recorded in 1925. Production dropped to pre-World War I levels during the Great Depression.
Depletion of the higher grade ores in the field, a decline of the world price, and the cost of continual pumping made mining in the once-great mining center uneconomical and forced its closure.
In the early 1980's, the Department of Mines worked closely with other state agencies on a task force which focused on the pollution problems resulting from this situation, and extensive funding was provided by the State of Oklahoma and the federal government to control contamination of water.