CLAREMORE, Okla. — 26 is the number of people who died on Oklahoma's abandoned mine lands. Keeping track since 1972 is the Abandoned Mine Land Program of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. Their mission is to protect lives, repair scarred land, and improve the environment.
There are more than 70,000 acres of abandoned coal mines in the state, underground and on the surface. The ones on top are strip mines. Claremore landowners, Debbie and Kevin Loudermilk’s know the dangers they pose.
“We have lost some calves. We had a bull that broke a leg, that we had to put down,” Debbie said.
They are out over $10,000 in livestock.
The two common hazards with mine land are high walls and water.
Robert Toole, AML’s Director, says underground mines are not safe to be in either.
"We have had some deaths occur from folks going into an underground mine and encountering an area that was void of oxygen, and they suffocated," Toole said.
Toole’s job involves the planning of recovering mine land.
“We've got to clear all the trees and brush, first. Then, we've got to begin pushing material into the pit and fill the pit up, shape it and grate it. It will be a multi-year process," Toole said.
Toole says it would take upwards of $120 million to recover Oklahoma's abandoned sites, which are on private property. His program is federally funded. Money comes from coal mining fees.
“That funding mechanism is, essentially, a fee place on every ton of coal that's been mined after 1977," Toole said.
So far, he and his team have recovered 5,000 acres.
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