Non-Coal Mining Program
Issuance of Mining Permits and Revisions
Before commencement of mining operations, the Department must issue a mining permit. Such permit is only issued upon the mine operator’s submission of an acceptable application and the posting of adequate bond to cover reclamation processes. The mining operator’s permit application must include legal and financial compliance information, safeguards for environmental resources and an operation and reclamation plan.
In calendar year 2010, the Minerals Division conducted 551 annual permit reviews; in 2009, 557 were conducted; and in 2008, 533 were conducted. Also, the number of permit applications, permit revisions, and permit transfer applications remains high in spite of the State’s recession with 139 applications being submitted and issued in 2010 compared to 134 in 2005 and 151 in 2007. In addition, legislation passed in 2008 to allow limited use permits be issued to operators needing material for a short term construction job. The limited use permit is issued for a two-acre maximum area for one calendar year. Ample bond is posted to ensure reclamation of these areas. (Please refer to the chart below for recent issuance history.)
Since 1982, the minimum reclamation bond which must be posted with the Department is $2,000.00 The amount of reclamation bond necessary for a mining permit is generally determined by the type of material being mined and the number of acres involved in the mining. Limited use permits have a $3,500.00 bond that is returned upon completion of the reclamation.
Non-Coal Mining Reclamation Bond Releases
A permittee may apply for a bond release whenever it has completed the initial grading of a site. This is known as a Phase I release. The permittee may apply for a Phase II release upon completion of revegetation of the site. The law requires that reclamation must be started within one (1) year of mining cessation. The Department recommends and encourages simultaneous reclamation. Once an operator submits a bond release application, complete with landowner notification letters, notices to adjacent landowners and to affected public agencies, the Department also sends notification letters to specified individuals, businesses, and agencies regarding the schedule of the mine inspector’s visit to the mine site. All those so notified are invited to join the inspection. Upon inspection, the inspector submits his or her recommendations to the Department, including photographs and narratives. The Department’s final decision is sent to the mining permittee within 90 days of the bond release request.
Reclaimed mine site in Payne County
Should a permittee desire to replace its existing reclamation bond with another type of bond, the Department may also approve a request for bond replacement.
During the last three (3) calendar years, the total number of bond releases and bond replacements approved by the Department were 100 in 2010; 114 in 2009; and 110 in 2008.
In the permit application the permittee specifies how the permit area will be reclaimed. It can be reclaimed as a pasture, water reservoir, recreational area, industrial or agricultural. The vast majority of sites are reclaimed as pasture and usually include a small impoundment. Quarries are primarily reclaimed as an impoundment and have become some premier fishing spots across Oklahoma.
The total dollar amount of bonds released during the last three (3) calendar years is shown in the chart below.
Public Participation in Non-Coal and CCB Permitting
Part of the permitting process allows for public notification and participation in the process. When a company publishes a notice of intent to mine, the public is informed of where interested persons may review a copy of the subject application. If a person, business or public entity wishes to file a protest against the pending permit or revision, a written objection may be mailed or faxed to the Department. The Department holds an informal conference in the county where the mine is to be located. At these informal conferences, protestants may voice their concerns and the mining company may answer any question regarding the proposed operation. After the conference, the Department representative holding the conference sends his or her results to the Department as well as the conference participants for comment. As long as the company is in compliance with the law, the permit is issued. However, in most cases, the company will alter its proposed mine plan to properly address the issues raised by the protestant. Should the protestants disagree with the result of the Conference Officer, they may request formal administrative review. These reviews or hearings are held in Oklahoma City by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ submits proposed finding to the Department’s Director for final decision.
During the last three (3) years, 17 applications for permits or major revisions received protests. Nine (9) informal conferences were held on these protests and one (1) formal hearing was requested. The protests or the applications were withdrawn on the remaining eight (8) applications. Of the 17 permits protested, the Department has since issued 13 permits.
Mining Inspections: Health & Safety and Environmental
The current mining industry would not have achieved its sound safety standards but for the Department’s field inspectors who monitor each producing site for health and safety of employees at the mine. Mining law mandates that each active operation be inspected four (4) to six (6) times per year. Departmental procedure requires that the blasting records of all operations be reviewed six (6) times each year. With over 700 mine sites (active and inactive permits) throughout Oklahoma, the Minerals Division’s field inspectors have a substantial work load.
Safety of the State’s miners is a top priority at the Department and in June 2000 we started distributing monthly Safety-Grams to all of our permitted operators. Relevant topics are chosen by a Safety Committee and Safety-Grams are hand-delivered by our Inspectors during field inspections. This gives the Inspector the opportunity to discuss the issues with the operators and answer any questions they may have. Copies of our Safety-Grams are distributed in both English and Spanish and are available on our website (http://www.ok.gov/mines/).
The Coal Health & Safety Inspections are conducted by Coal inspectors. The Department’s inspectors conducts all heath and safety inspections of all mine sites within Oklahoma. This is in addition to the permitting and environmental inspections conducted on mine sites. Broken down into programs, the following inspections were conducted during the three-year time frame shown.
The Coal Health & Safety Inspections are conducted by Coal inspectors. The Department’s inspectors conducted all health and safety inspections of all mine sites within Oklahoma. This is in addition to the permitting and environmental inspections conducted on mining sites.
Each Inspector awards an Inspector’s Safety Award to one small mine and one large mine in his or her territory each year. These awards are earned and based on safe mining practices at the operation for a twelve (12) month period.
Accident and Fatality Investigations
One of the most distressing responsibilities of the Minerals Division in the investigation of accidents and fatalities on mine sites. Our inspectors investigate all reported, non-fatal accidents and all reported fatalities occurring at mining operations throughout Oklahoma.
Operators are required to report all non-fatal accidents on mine sites to ODM. The number of reported non-fatal accidents has averaged around fifty-two (52) accidents each year over the last several years. One of the sections on the accident reporting form provides a place for the operator to indicate his or her own recommendations against repetition of the accident. During routine inspections, field inspectors discuss the accidents with the mine supervisors. Reporting forms are available by contacting the Department or accessing the website.
With more stringent laws regarding mine health and safety and a more safety-conscious industry, the number of fatalities has greatly decreased during the last decade. Any fatality is a tragedy, however. The lessons learned by the company mine employees are of great value. Once the accident or fatality investigations have been conducted, a report is filed as to any
preventative measures which could have been taken to avoid the unfortunate death or accident. In addition, fliers sent from the Department concerning the unsafe practices and updated training at the Oklahoma Miner Training Institute (“OMTI”) help make the industry aware of prevention of similar accidents at various locations.
In 2010, there were two (2) fatalities at mine sites in Oklahoma. One was due to failure to wear a proper flotation device and the second involved working on electrical equipment without properly denergizing and locking out the equipment. Reports for all previous fatalities are available from the Department upon request. Information can also be found on ODM’s website
The Non-Coal production fee rate is set by statute at one (1) cent per ton of material produced. In 2010 this rate was increased for the first time since 1987. Non-Coal production reached a high in 2007 with 83,443,637 tons reported.
The Non-Coal and CCB mining permit fee is $175.00 per year and has not been increased for over the past two decades. The processing fee for a limited use permit is $100.00
At this time, there is no charge for mining permit revision which entails a company name change, a change in the reclamation plan or an increase in the amount of bonded or permitted acreage included in a permit. In addition, there is no fee for the transfers of permits.
Further, no permittee incurs any fines associated with violations issued by the Minerals Division relating to health and safety or permitted conditions. Therefore, the 580 violations issued in 2010 generated no fines payable to the Department.