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AML program works to clean up coal mines that predate reclamation laws

North Dakota will receive $2.8 million dollars from the federal Abandoned Mine Lands program this year.

The money comes from a tax coal companies pay to take care of problems with mines that pre-dated modern reclamation techniques.

North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann said many are small, underground mines – and there may be hundreds of them. Christmann said a number of the mines were privately owned.

"Those are very old," Christmann said. "I don't know what their thoughts were at the time -- I guess survival may have been the thought. It was a way to get heat in their homes, because there weren't enough forests in North Dakota."

Those underground mine shafts are starting to collapse.

When surface mining began in North Dakota, the mines they operated without reclamation laws.

"That's why you see areas such as near Wilton and Garrison, and in the Beulah-Hazen area, where there are abandoned spoil piles," Christmann said. "We've gone in there and used the AML money to fix a few things on those spoil piles."

Now, Christmann said the focus for the AML funds is public health – taking care of threats to roads and buildings.

"We would have nowhere near the capability to go out and repair all the old abandoned mine lands on private property, and aren't a real health threat," Christmann said.

One of the big projects pending this year is a drilling and grouting project near Williston, that actually began last year.

"There are some oil and gas related businesses there, that weren't aware of this underground mine activity," Christmann said. "They're having some collapsing issues."

Christmann said that project is more extensive – and expensive – than originally thought.

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