ROGERS COUNTY, Oklahoma - The Federal Government is helping Oklahoma clean up abandoned coal mines to make them safe.

There are more than 32,000 acres of abandoned surface coal mines in Oklahoma and about 40,000 acres of abandoned underground coal mines in 16 counties. The state organization tasked with organizing the cleanup from start to finish is the Oklahoma Conservation Commission’s Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Division led by Robert Toole.

The Oklahoma Conservation Commission took News On 6 to an abandoned surface coal mine in Rogers County. The site, which consists of about 100 acres is in the process of being repaired and made safe, also known as being reclaimed.  

"Today we are eliminating the spoil piles that you see all around us we will shape it and grate it and smooth it so that we can come back in and revegetate it after construction," said Robert Toole, the Director Of the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Program

Toole said the crews working to clean up the mine in Rogers County are also trying to get rid of dangerous safety hazards. Since 1972 the OCC said more than 25 people have died at abandoned coal mines in Oklahoma.

"There are dangerous high walls, there are hazards, water bodies those are the two primary hazards that we have been eliminating here," said Toole.

Toole said OCC targets coal mines that were abandoned prior to August 3rd, 1977 to reclaim them without any cost to the state. This year Oklahoma is getting $2.8 million from the federal government. Although it may seem like a lot, the project in Rogers County costs about $1 million.

"We have over $120 million of unreclaimed abandoned mine lands that are still on inventory," said Toole.

Toole said although they have a lot of unreclaimed abandoned mines, he says they have made significant headway. The AML program has completed more than 190 projects and has reclaimed more than 5000 acres. Toole said he hopes to continue reclaiming sites into the future.

Toole said if Congress does not act to amend the bill which allows for the collection of fees to provide funds to clean up the sites, it could expire in September of 2021.