The main functions of the Minerals Division is the enforcement of a safe and healthy working environment for the miners in the mining industry, ensuring compliance with mining permits issued, and the enforcement of reclamation so that Oklahoma land is left in a productive, safe, and usable state. This is accomplished by enforcing the administrative law found under OAC 460:10 and O.S. Title 45 regarding Non-Coal permits. Non-Mining Blasting laws are found under OAC 460: 25 and O.S. Title 63.
The Division administers two separate programs. The Non-Coal Mining Program and the Non- Mining Blasting Program work simultaneously and parallel to accomplish our Division’s goals through:
1. Issuing mining permits and amendments (revisions) in compliance with the statutes and regulations under our state’s law.
2. Conducting annual reviews in compliance with statutes and regulations.
3. Approving bond releases in compliance with statutes and regulations.
4. Issuing Non-Mining Blasting permits and Blasting permit exemptions for the purchase of explosives in Oklahoma.
5. Conducting health and safety inspections and environmental inspections on all Non-Coal surface and underground mines.
6. Conducting permit review inspections on all Non-Coal mine sites.
7. Conducting reclamation inspections on all Non-Coal sites.
8. Conducting complaint investigations upon request.
9. Conducting hearings as outlined in the statutes and regulations.
10. Conducting blasting inspections on all mine sites.
11. Conducting accident or fatality investigations as they occur.
12. Conducting Non-Mining blasting inspections.
The extraction or mining of minerals from the earth occurs in every county of the state. Minerals mines in Oklahoma include coal (not shown), limestone, dimensional stone, sand and gravel, gypsum, clay and shale, granite, caliche, tripoli, salt, iron ore (not shown), and chat (not shown). The Division regulates all mine sites within the State of Oklahoma with the exception of coal. As of January 2018, there were 739 Non-Coal sites permitted with the Department of Mines.
This number is constantly changing as new permits and permit revisions are received on a daily basis from the industry as well as companies applying for bond releases.
Of the 739 permitted mines, 663 are non- coal mining permits and 76 are limited use mining permits located throughout the State.
The Non-Mining Blasting Program has on file 17 blasting permits, 1 limited time permits, 0 one time permit, and 110 non- mining blasting permit exemptions.
In addition to the permitted mine sites our Division regulates, the mine inspectors must review all notifications from the Department of Transportation regarding possible borrow pit sites being utilized for government jobs, which includes state highway projects.
ISSUANCE OF MINING PERMITS AND AMENDED PERMITS
Before commencement of mining operations, a permit must be obtained from the Department. A permit is issued when the mine operator submits an acceptable application and posts adequate bond to cover the reclamation of the site. As of January 2017, there is $70,400,432 in reclamation bonds posted with the Department to ensure site restoration of non-coal permits. The mining operator’s permit application includes legal and financial compliance information, the safeguard of environmental resources, an operation plan and a reclamation plan. Along with these plans, the applications include accurate detailed maps depicting the location and direction of mining and post mine land use. If explosives are to be utilized during the mining, then a Blasting Plan is included in the permit application.
In 2017, there were 52 Non-Coal mining permits issued and 66 revisions. These numbers are an increase from the previous year. In 2003, authorization was given through legislation to allow for non- coal permits to be transferred to other operators. Transfer applications are submitted to the Department with a posted reclamation bond and include public participation. In 2017, 8 permits were approved for transfer. This is a slight decline from 2016 figures. In 2008, the statute which allowed for tonnage exemptions was amended to require a limited use permit be obtained. With a maximum disturbance area of 2 acres and a posted reclamation bond, a limited use permit is a one-time non- renewable permit valid for one (1) year from issuance. In 2017, 49 limited use permits were issued. This is a slight increase from 2016. In 2017, 564 annual permit reviews were conducted on non-coal mining permits. 586 total reviews were conducted in 2016; and 567 in 2015. Please refer to the previous chart for recent issuance history.
NON-COAL MINING RECLAMATION BOND RELEASES
Reclaimed Mine Site
Reclamation Bond Releases may be applied for whenever a mining company has completed the initial grading of a site (Phase I) and/or completed revegetation of the land (Phase II). The law states that grading must be started within one (1) year of mining cessation. The Department recommends and encourages simultaneous reclamation. Once a company submits the bond release application which includes notification letters to the landowner, necessary public agencies, and adjacent landowners, the Department schedules a release inspection of the property. Prior to the inspection, the Department sends notification letters to the specified landowners and public agencies as to when the mine inspector will be on site and inviting them to join the inspection. Upon inspection, the mine inspector will submit his/her recommendations to the Department, which includes a narrative of the inspection with photographs. The Department’s decision on the bond release application will be sent to the mining company and all participants within 90 days of the original request. If a hearing is requested, one will be provided prior to the final decision.
Should a company desire to replace their current reclamation bond with another type of bond, a bond replacement may be approved provided adequate bond is received.
During the last three calendar years, the total bond releases and replacements approved were 93 for 2017; 117 for 2016; and 108 for 2015.
The total dollar amounts released based on Phase I grading and Phase II completed reclamation during the last three calendar years is shown in the following chart.
In 2013 and 2014, the reclamation bond rates were modified to $1,000 per acre for the disturbance area on all existing bonded acreage. All new acreage is bonded at $1,500 per acre. Operators may submit their own reclamation bond calculations for consideration in lieu of the cost per acre bond.
OBJECTIONS TO NON-COAL PERMITS
Part of the permitting process allows for public notification and participation. When a company publishes a notice of intent to mine in the newspaper, the public is informed of where they may review a copy of the application, revision application, or transfer application. A list of the applications currently in publication is on the agency’s website including the company name, legal description, and type of application. If a person, business, or public entity wishes to file a protest against the pending application, a written objection may be mailed, faxed, or e-mailed to the Department. An informal conference will be provided if one is requested. Informal conferences are held by a Department representative in the county where the mine will be located. At these informal meetings, the citizens may voice their concerns and the mining company is present to answer any questions regarding the proposed operation. After the meeting, the Conference Officer sends his/her recommendations to the Department. The Department then issues a Notice of Departmental Decision. A copy of the recommendations and the Notice of Departmental Decision are sent to all participants. Even though the law does not require publication of the decision, the Department places a notice in the local newspaper apprising the local citizens of the outcome of the conference. In most cases, the mining company will alter their proposed mine plan in order to properly address the issues raised by the citizens. Should any of the parties not agree with the recommendations of the Conference Officer, and the Notice of the Department’s Decision, they may request a Formal Hearing be held. Formal Hearings are held by an adjunct judge not employed by the Department. The Findings of this hearing are sent to the Department’s Director for a final decision.
During the last three years, 9 total permits received objections. Five (5) informal conferences were held and no formal hearings. Of the 9 permits protested, 2 applications were withdrawn by the operator. Four of these nine applications have been issued permits by the Department.
The field inspectors monitor each productive site for the health and safety of the miners employed there. Statute requires that each active operation be inspected four to six (4-6) times per year, Title 45, Chapter 11, Section 907. Departmental policy requires that the blasting records of all mining operations be reviewed six (6) times each year.
The Coal Health and Safety Inspections are conducted by the coal inspectors of our agency. ODM employs one (1) underground inspector who inspects surface and underground mining operations. This is in addition to the permitting and environmental inspections that are conducted on minerals sites.
ACCIDENT AND FATALITY INVESTIGATIONS
One of the most distressing responsibilities of the Minerals Division is the investigation of accidents and fatalities. The inspectors investigate all reported non-fatal accidents and all fatalities that occur on mining operations throughout Oklahoma. According to non-coal rule OAC 460:10-35-8, operators are required to notify the Department of all serious injuries or fatal accidents in a timely manner.
The number of fatalities has greatly decreased during the last decade. Each and every fatality is a tragedy; however, the lessons learned by the company and fellow mine employees are of great value. Once the fatality investigation of an accident has been conducted by a team of inspectors, a report is filed as to any preventative measures that could have been taken to prevent the unfortunate death. In addition, fliers sent from the Department concerning the unsafe practices and updated training at the Oklahoma Miner Training Institute help make the industry aware as to how to prevent similar accidents on their locations.
There has not been a mine related fatality since 2012, over five (5) years. In 2012, there was one (1) fatality; in 2010, two (2) fatalities occurred; and in 2009 one (1) fatality. Reports for each fatality mentioned above are available by request.
The Non-Coal production fee rate is .0125% per ton of material produced. This fee rate changed from .01% to .0125% in November 2017. Non-Coal production has steadily increased during the last three (3) years with 80,513,024 tons being reported in 2016.
The Non-Coal mining permit fee is $175.00 per year and has remained unchanged since 1993. The limited use permit fee is $100.00. At this time there is no fee for any type of permit revisions or transfers.
Health and Safety violations issued by the Division relating to health and safety or permitting conditions do not incur a fine. Therefore, the 222 violations issued in 2017 did not result in any fees collected by the Department. However, violations for mining without a permit can result in an up to $10,000.00 fine. Since August 2012, failure to report a serious or fatal accident can incur a $500.00 fine.
The Minerals Division monitors and investigates complaints for Non-Coal Mining and Non-Mining Blasting activities throughout the State of Oklahoma. Although the law states that written complaints be investigated, the Division responds to all received complaints whether written, oral, or filed on the Department’s website. Complaint files, as well as complaint log data bases, are maintained and updated for all complaints received by the Division.
A complaint investigation form is processed for each complaint and sent to the complainant and the appropriate inspector(s). A copy of the inspector’s investigation report, including an outline of any action which was taken, is sent to the complainant with a letter explaining the administrative process. If the complainant disagrees with the action, he/she may appeal the decision as outlined in the administrative process.
If during the course of the complaint investigation, an operator is found to be conducting illegal activities or is in violation of Departmental Rules, the operator is subject to violations and a fine for mining without a permit, if applicable. Violations issued in Non-Mining Blasting activities are also subject to monetary fines.
Complaints determined to be out of the jurisdiction of the Department of Mines are forwarded to the appropriate regulatory authority.