AML Program Overview

The Abandoned Mine Land Program
Funding Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation
How Reclamation Work Is Done
Mining Terminology

The State of New Mexico is well known for its scenic beauty as well as for its mineral resources. The history of mining in New Mexico spans more than a millennium, beginning with Native American miners who extracted deposits of turquoise and lead. One of Spain's primary reasons for originally sending explorers to New Mexico in the 1500s was to find valuable metal deposits.

Today, mining companies are required to provide full bonded reclamation plans before they are able to obtain permits to mine in the State of New Mexico. But mining operations in the past tended to close down suddenly, abandoning the mine shafts and coal gob piles just as they were, leaving safety or environmental hazards.

New Mexico's Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Program is part of the Mining and Minerals Division and promotes the reclamation of historical (pre-1977) mining-related disturbances. To date, New Mexico's AML Program has addressed many long-abandoned mine sites. These sites contained hazardous mining features (open adits, shafts, pits and dilapidated structures) and exhibited serious erosion problems. Now many of these old mines have been safeguarded and revegetated.   

The New Mexico Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Program and certain other abandoned mine land programs throughout the nation were formed by the passage of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) on May 2, 1977. This law places a fee on active coal mines. These monies are placed in a fund called the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund. This fund is used to reclaim coal mines abandoned prior to the enactment of SMCRA. Under certain conditions, abandoned non-coal mines may also be reclaimed.

As abandoned mine sites around the state are inventoried, they are evaluated to determine if they qualify for AML funding. Federal policy requires that priority one and two projects be completed first. Priority three coal projects can be completed in conjunction with priority one and two projects or after all priority one and two projects have been completed.

The three reclamation priorities are:
1. Protection of public health, safety, general welfare and property from extreme danger resulting from the adverse effects of past mineral mining practices.
2. Protection of public health, safety and general welfare from adverse effects of past mineral mining and processing practices, which do not constitute an extreme danger.
3. Restoration of eligible lands and waters and the environment previously degraded by adverse effects of past mineral mining and processing practices, including measures for the conservation and development for soil, water (excluding channelization), woodland, fish and wildlife, recreation resources, and agricultural productivity.

The New Mexico AML Program was formed in 1981 after an agreement was signed between the State of New Mexico and the Department of Interior's Office of Surface Mining (OSM). An OSM field office in Albuquerque, New Mexico provides direct oversight to the state program. OSM's 2014 Annual Evaluation Report for New Mexico details the state program oversight.

Under SMCRA, priority is to be given to reclamation of abandoned coal mines and affected lands and water. However, states which have certified that all coal reclamation has been completed may then use their AML moneys for non-coal reclamation. Presently, the states and Indian tribes of Hopi Tribe, Louisiana, Montana, Navajo Nation, Texas and Wyoming, have certified the completion of all coal reclamation projects. Back to top

In addition, in states which have not certified (such as New Mexico), non-coal reclamation projects can be funded on a case-by-case basis upon the request by the Governor of the State or the head of the tribal body indicating that reclamation of the site is necessary for the protection of the public health, safety and general welfare from extreme danger, (i.e., that the priority 1 problem criteria under SMCRA have been met).

To be eligible for SMCRA funding, sites to be reclaimed must have been mined or affected by mining processes and abandoned or left in an inadequate reclamation status prior to August 3, 1977 (or prior to August 28, 1974 for U.S. Forest Service administered lands; and November 26, 1980 for U.S. Bureau of Land Management administered lands). A proposed SMCRA reclamation site cannot be within an area that has been designated for remedial action under the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act (UMTRCA) or under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).

Like most Western states, New Mexico is under public and political pressure to safeguard those hazards most accessible to the public. New Mexico has experienced at least eight (8) abandoned mine related fatalities in the last 40 years and numerous AML related injuries. These fatalities have required that the AML Program focus on several non-coal sites that were previously considered to be remote. Increased off-road recreational vehicle use has caused the SMCRA priority to be revised for several sites.

New Mexico AML has closed or safeguarded more than 3100 hazardous mine features through 155 AML reclamation projects through July 2004. Among these were some of the most hazardous abandoned mine features in the state such as open shafts, adits, stopes and winzes. Although other serious hazards still exist, certainly lives have been saved and injuries prevented because of this work. Substantial environmental degradation is sometimes associated with abandoned mines. The positive environmental effects from the completed work can be measured in terms of protection of cultural and historic property, wildlife enhancement and protection of habitat, re-vegetation and associated decreases in erosion, improvements in water quality, improvements in air quality and overall a discernible improvement in the quality of life for the citizens of New Mexico. Much work remains to be done, especially with regard to abandoned non-coal mines. Back to top

New Mexico's Abandoned Mine Land Program is funded by a per ton tax assessed at the national level on coal production. This abandoned mine reclamation fund was established by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA). The money is made available through Congressional appropriation. Each year, The State of New Mexico must apply to the United States Department of Interior (OSM) for construction and administrative grants.

The coal mining assessment, set by SMCRA, is 35¢ for every ton of surface coal mined and 15¢ a ton for underground tonnage. At current production levels, the annual nationwide tax amounts to more than $250 million. Specifically for New Mexico, between $3 to $5 million in AML fees are collected annually from active coal production in the state. Through September 2005, $7,445,240,695.16 had been collected nationally since the program's inception -- approximately $113,000,000 in New Mexico.

OSM provides yearly grants from the total fund to the New Mexico AML Program for administrative and construction costs. As a minimum program State (any state with outstanding priority-1 coal hazards that receives less than $1.5M in any given year), New Mexico occasionally receives a small percentage of Federal-share money based upon its historical coal production prior to 1977. For example, New Mexico received $193,742.00 in Federal-share distributions in 2004 and $212,251 in 2005 in addition to its State-share funding. In 2005, New Mexico's grant for abandoned mine reclamation was $1,637,421. Back to top

Since the AML Program uses federal funds, it must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA. The entire process from identifying the abandoned mine to completing construction usually requires several years.

Consent to Entry
Early in the planning stages of reclamation, the AML project manager must determine the current ownership of the land and whether there are any mining claims at the site. The AML Program goes to considerable effort to identify and locate property owners and claim holders at a proposed reclamation site. A thorough search of the public records is done so that landowners or mining claim holders can be contacted early. Staff researchers verify ownership and obtain copies of official documents recorded in the deed records of county clerk and recorder's offices and other locations. Once the landowners have been identified, the project manager contacts each landowner that can be located. At this time, the landowner may give input about the proposed reclamation project. Where practicable, effort is made to incorporate landowner requests into the final reclamation design. Project managers have found that, once they explain abandoned mine reclamation projects, owners very often grant consent.

Property owners are asked to sign a Consent-to-Entry for Reclamation form. If the property owner participated in the mining activities on the property, they are asked to sign a form that contains language about a potential lien on improvements made to the land by the reclamation construction work. A lien on such improvements has never been done by the AML Program in New Mexico. Also it should be noted that a lien will not be placed against the property of a surface owner who acquired title prior to May 2, 1977 if the owner did not consent to, participate in, or exercise control over the mining operation which necessitated the reclamation work. The second form containing no lien language is used in such instances.

Biological Review
A survey is conducted by a specialist to determine if there are rare or endangered plant species in the project area. Click here for a list of rare plants in New Mexico. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is also consulted for a list of potential threatened or endangered animal species in the area. Back to top

Environmental Assessment and Other Permits
After all of the background information has been gathered, the AML Program prepares an Environmental Assessment (EA). Some of the agencies which comment on reclamation projects and impact the decision-making process include the State Historic Preservation Office and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Reclamation Design
Engineers come up with a reclamation plan after all of the constraints are recognized. The reclamation plan is put together in a project manual with specifications, drawings and a draft of the contract to be bid.

Public Meeting
Public meetings help AML staff gain public input about site reclamation goals and objectives. If many people are concerned about a certain project, AML might conduct additional meetings to update people about recent findings. All public meetings are held locally and AML staff encourages audience participation. Meetings are announced in local newspapers and on our internet site, and they are held in the evening to facilitate the participation of daytime working residents. AML staff give a brief history of abandoned mine reclamation activities in New Mexico, the funding source(s) for the reclamation project, and legal authorities. They explain how a particular site is chosen to be addressed ahead of others. The meetings cover topics in layman's terms and utilize photos and maps to help explain the reclamation effort. Project experts such as the engineer or historic preservation specialist attend as well to fill in the important details and answer questions.

AML staff is always willing to meet members of the public who become actively involved in reclamation projects one-on-one. Almost all project file information is available for public viewing at the AML office in Santa Fe.

Bid Process
AML advertises the reclamation construction project by sending notices to a list of contractors that have asked to be notified. The project is also advertised on the AML internet site, by the State Purchasing Division and in various plan rooms. When interested contractors want to learn more about the project, they request a project manual from AML. There is currently no cost to receive a project manual.

Before a project is bid, the AML engineer and project manager hold a pre-bid meeting with potential bidders so they can fully understand the work that needs to be done and the equipment and qualifications necessary to complete the job before they submit a bid.

On the specified date and time, the State Purchasing Division opens all bids, checks for the necessary bid bond and announces the low bidder. Soon after, the bid packages are forwarded to the AML Program which verifies the contractor's compliance with necessary insurance and bonding requirements and prepares a Notice of Award and an Agreement for the contractor's signature. Then the site work can begin. Back to top

Once the bid is accepted, the project manager and engineer hold a pre-construction conference with the selected contractor to clarify lines of authority and communication. They review construction plans in detail so that any questions can be resolved. Following this meeting, the project manager issues a notice to proceed and the contractor begins the construction work, which must be completed by the contract construction completion date. After months of planning and design work, depending on the size of the problem to be addressed, the construction phase of a typical reclamation project often takes just 2 to 4 months.

Construction tasks necessary to reclaim an old mining site vary, but they may include such things as:
• moving large amounts of material such as waste rock
• stabilizing or removal of dangerous structures and debris
• filling or blocking hazardous openings
• closing adits and shafts with gates and cupolas which accommodate bats
• placement of topsoil
• revegetation

Specifications are very detailed and they include specific requirements for all aspects of the project work. Throughout the construction, the project manager directly oversees the progress of the work. Project managers conduct frequent on-site inspections and provide assistance to ensure that each step in the reclamation process proceeds as planned and engineered. Once the construction is completed, the project manager and the engineer conduct a final inspection to insure contractor compliance with the work plan. Final payment will not be made to the contractor until the completion of a successful final inspection.  Back to top

In the years following the reclamation project, AML monitors the success of the reclamation and checks for vandalism. The site is visited frequently to monitor the success of revegetation and other aspects of the project construction. If necessary, maintenance work is contracted out to repair vandalized structures.


ACID MINE DRAINAGE: Water mixed with sulfuric acid and having a pH of less than 6.0 discharging from an active or abandoned mine and/or the surrounding affected area. When exposed to air, water or weather processes, acid forming earthen materials containing sulfide minerals (principally iron pyrites) oxidate and form the sulfuric acid. The sulfuric acid mixes with the water and flows out of the mine into surrounding waters as acid mine drainage.
ADIT: A horizontal or nearly horizontal passage driven from the surface of the earth for the working of a mine. If driven through a hill or mountain to the surface on the opposite side, it would be a tunnel.
AML: Abandoned Mine Land Program
APPROXIMATE ORIGINAL CONTOUR: The surface configuration achieved by backfilling and grading of previously mined areas so that the reclaimed area closely resembles the general surface configuration of the land and surrounding area prior to mining.
BACK: The roof or upper part in any underground mining cavity. Back to top
COAL GOB WASTE: Earthen materials that are separated from the coal product during processing.
COAL SEAM: A bed or layer of coal in the earth.
COLLAR: Timbering or concrete around the mouth or top of a shaft; the junction of a mine shaft and the surface.
CONCENTRATION/CONCENTRATE: A process for reducing the values in an ore to a smaller bulk in order to diminish the expense of shipping and treatment. Concentrate is the reduced ore material which contains the valuable metal from which most of the waste material has been eliminated. Concentrate is then sent to smelters for further treatment.
CRIBBING: The close setting of timber supports when shaft sinking through loose ground.
CYANIDE/CYANIDATION: A salt or ester of hydrocyanic acid which produces a chemical reaction in leaching operations in metal mine processing operations in order to dissolve metal values from gangue materials for later recovery. The practice consists of fine grinding the entire tonnage on a roller, tube, rod, or ball mill. The crushed ore then passes to leaching tanks where a solution of sodium or potassium cyanide is placed in the tank with the ore. The ore then gives up the silver or gold mineral into the solution so that gold can be retrieved in zinc boxes or other methods. The precipitate is then smelted and refined into gold and silver bullion.
DISTURBED AREA: An area of land or surface water that has been disturbed by mining activities. The term includes the area from which the overburden, vegetation, topsoil, tailings, waste materials, minerals or coal have been removed; and areas where topsoil, spoil, or mine processing waste were placed by surface mining operations. It also includes tailings ponds, waste dumps, roads, conveyor systems, leach dumps and all similar excavations or coverings that result from mining operations and have not been previously reclaimed.
DRIFT: A horizontal passage underground. Back to top
DUMP: A pile or heap of waste rock material or other non-ore refuse near a mine.
ENTRY: A haulage road, gangway, or airway to the surface.
GOB: Rock or other coarse materials sorted out of coal either during mining or processing. Gob has the consistency of pea-gravel or driveway stone.
GROUNDWATER: Subsurface water that fills available openings in rock or soil materials to the extent that they are considered water saturated.
HIGHWALL: The vertical wall consisting of the material being mined and the overlying rock and soil strata (overburden) of the mining site.
IMPOUNDMENT: A closed basin, naturally formed or artificially built, which is dammed or excavated for the retention of water, sediment, or waste.
INCLINE: A shaft not vertical; usually on the dip of a vein. Back to top
LAGGING: Planks, slabs, or small timbers placed over the caps or behind the posts of the timbering, not to carry the main weight, but to form a ceiling or a wall, preventing fragments or rock from falling through.
LEACHING: The removal in solution of the more soluble minerals by percolating water or extracting a soluble metallic compound from an ore by selectively dissolving it in a suitable solvent, such as water, sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, cyanide, etc. A leach pad is a specially prepared area covered by an impervious liner on which ore is placed for leaching. A leach tank is a specially constructed wooden tank in which ore is placed for leaching. Back to top
LINING: The brick, concrete, cast iron, or steel casing placed around a tunnel or shaft as a support.
LOADING CHUTE: A three sided tray for loading or for transfer of material from one transport unit to another.
LODE: A mineral deposit in solid rock.
MILL: A mineral processing facility which is a building with machines for grinding and pulverizing ores and extracting metals or producing a product. A mill might have rock crushers and grinders for ore, vats for mixing chemicals with the crushed ore, and machinery for capturing the desired product.
MINING: The process of obtaining useful minerals from the earth's crust including both underground and surface workings.
MULCH: Vegetation residues or other suitable materials that aid in soil stabilization and soil moisture conservation, thus providing conditions suitable for seed germination and growth.
ORE: A mineral or mineral aggregate containing precious or useful metals and which occurs in such quantity, grade and chemical combination as to make extraction commercially profitable. An ore body is a solid and fairly continuous mass of ore which may include low grade ore and waste as well as high grade materials. An ore deposit is a general term applied to rocks containing minerals of economic value in such amount that they can be profitably exploited. The term is also applied to deposits which, though they may not be immediately capable of profitable exploitation, may yet become so by change in the economic circumstances that control their value. Back to top
ORE PROCESSING: Milling, heap leaching, flotation, vat leaching, or other standard hard-rock mineral concentration processes; and, in the opencut mining context, crushing, screening, and asphalt or concrete plants.
OSM: The United States Department of Interior's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. This is the federal agency that oversees the work of state agencies enforcing the federal coal mining and reclamation law.
OVERBURDEN: All of the earth and other materials that lie above a natural mineral deposit and the earth and other material after removal from their natural state in the process of mining.
PANNING: The hand placer process utilizing a circular steel dish from 10-16 inches in diameter at the top and from 2 to 2.5 inches deep with sloping sides at 35-40 degrees. With a gyratory motion, a miner sorts gravel in the pan, pouring off the larger particles, and leaving the finer heavier materials. Back to top
pH: A symbol for the degree of acidity or alkalinity of a solution. pH values from 0 to 6 indicate acidity and from 8 to 14 indicate alkalinity. A solution with a pH of 7 is considered neutral.

PLACER MINING: The extraction of naturally occurring, scattered or unconsolidated valuable minerals from gravel or alluvium lying above bedrock. Placer mining is also called "dredge mining." Miners remove unwanted sedimentary material with running water which traps the metal ore in sluice boxes.
PORTAL: Any entrance to a mine.
PYRITE: A lustrous yellow mineral which is a common iron sulphide occurring abundantly as native ore and serving principally as a source of sulfur in the formation of sulfuric acid in acid mine drainage.
RED DOG: Material of a reddish color resulting from the combustion of shale and other mine waste dumps on the surface.
REVEGETATE: The act of planting reclaimed land with grasses, flowers, shrubs and trees.
SEDIMENT: Matter that settles to the bottom of a liquid; matter deposited by water or wind (i.e. sand, silt, dirt, etc.) Back to top
SHAFT: A vertical or steeply inclined excavation that is connected to a mine.
SMCRA: The federal law called the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, passed by Congress to establish minimum national standards for mining and reclamation, and to provide a funding source for the reclamation of abandoned mines.
SMELTING: The chemical reduction of a metal from its ore and certain fluxes by melting at high temperatures. The non-metallic material floats on top of the heavier metallic constituents in the molten state and remains in that position when it cools and hardens.
SOIL AMENDMENTS: Additives to the soil to enhance its productivity, such as fertilizer or agricultural lime.
SPOIL: Overburden material disturbed or removed from its natural state, or non-ore material removed in gaining access to ore or mineral material in the process of mining. Spoil and mining waste materials are disposed of or piled in waste dumps and spoil piles.
STOPE: An excavation in which ore has been excavated in a series of steps.
SUBSIDENCE: The collapsing of overburden materials resulting from underground mining or associated underground excavations that cause depressions or holes on the surface and damage to structures.
SUBSOIL: The layer of soil beneath the topsoil.
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TAILINGS: The refuse material resulting from washing, concentrating or treating ground ore that is discharged from a mill. A tailings pond is a pond of water with a constraining wall or dam into which mill effluents are deposited.
TALUS: A heap of coarse rock waste at the foot of a cliff.
TIPPLE: Originally the place where the mine cars were tipped and emptied of their coal, and still used in that sense, although now more generally applied to the surface structures of a mine, including the preparation plant and loading tracks.
TOPSOIL: The upper surface layer of soil, usually darker and richer than the subsoil, that is naturally present and necessary for the growth and regeneration of vegetation on the surface of the earth.
VEGETATION: In the context of reclamation activities, vegetative cover is the type of vegetation, grass, shrubs, trees, or any other form of natural cover considered suitable at the time of reclamation. Usually, plants used to revegetate a reclamation site are those that are native to the surrounding area.
WASTE ROCK DUMP: Waste rock that was mined and disposed in the vicinity of a mining operation, often at or near the entrance of an adit.

: Interior mine shaft.  Back to top

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