(a) Any person intending to prospect for coal in an area not covered by a surface-mining permit, in order to determine the location, quantity or quality of a natural coal deposit, making feasibility studies or for any other purpose, shall file with the secretary, at least fifteen days prior to commencement of any disturbance associated with prospecting, a notice of intention to prospect, which notice shall include a description of the prospecting area, the period of supposed prospecting and any other information as required by rules promulgated pursuant to this section: Provided, That prior to the commencement of prospecting, the secretary may issue an order denying or limiting permission to prospect where the secretary finds that prospecting operations will damage or destroy a unique natural area, or will cause serious harm to water quality, or that the operator has failed to satisfactorily reclaim other prospecting sites, or that there has been an abuse of prospecting by previous prospecting operations in the area.
(b) Notice of intention to prospect shall be made in writing on forms prescribed by the secretary and shall be signed and verified by the applicant. The notice shall be accompanied by: (1) A United States Geological Survey topographic map showing by proper marking the crop line and the name, where known, of the seam or seams to be prospected; (2) a filing fee of $2000; and (3) a bond, or cash, or collateral securities or certificates of the same type and form and in the same manner as provided in section eleven of this article, in the amount of five hundred dollars per acre or fraction thereof for the total estimated disturbed area. If a bond is used, it shall be payable to the State of West Virginia and conditioned that the operator faithfully perform the requirements of this article as they relate to backfilling and revegetation of the disturbed area.
(c) Any person prospecting under the provisions of this section shall ensure that the prospecting operation is conducted in accordance with the performance standards in section thirteen of this article for all lands disturbed in explorations, including excavations, roads, drill holes, and the removal of necessary facilities and equipment.
(d) Information submitted to the secretary pursuant to this section as confidential, concerning trade secrets or privileged commercial or financial information, which relates to the competitive rights of the person or entity intended to prospect the described area, is not available for public examination.
(e) Any person who conducts any prospecting activities which substantially disturb the natural land surface in violation of this section or rules issued pursuant thereto is subject to the provisions of sections sixteen and seventeen of this article.
(f) An operator may not remove more than two hundred fifty tons of coal without the specific written approval of the secretary. Such approval shall be requested by the operator on forms prescribed by the secretary. The secretary shall promulgate rules governing such operations and setting forth information required in the application for approval. Each such application shall be accompanied by a $2000 filing fee.
(g) The bond accompanying said notice of intention to prospect shall be released by the secretary when the operator demonstrates that a permanent species of vegetative cover is established.
(h) If an operator desires to mine the area currently being prospected, and has requested and received an appropriate surface mine application (S.M.A.) number, the secretary may permit the postponement of the reclamation of the area prospected. Any part of a prospecting operation, where reclamation has not been postponed as provided above, shall be reclaimed within a period of three months from disturbance.
(i) For the purpose of this section, the word "prospect" or "prospecting" does not include core drilling related solely to taxation or highway construction.