Senate Subcommittee Hears Testimony about Quecreek Mine Incident

The governor of Pennsylvania insisted digitized mining maps might have averted the Quecreek Mine incident, while one of the miners trapped for nine days says the incident could have been averted if company management had heeded warnings about the wet conditions in the mine.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, chaired by U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (R, Pa.), is looking into what can be done to improve how abandoned mines are currently mapped. The subcommittee met in the city council chambers of Johnstown, Pa.

Miner Ron Hileman told the subcommittee that crew leader Randy Fogle warned company management the mine shaft where the men were working was growing wetter, an indication that a source of underground water was nearby.

"The mine was very wet from the very beginning," Hileman testified. "The company knew the water conditions."

Dave Rebuck, president of Black Wolf Coal, which operates the mine, countered there was not "significant leakage of water" into the mine, and said Fogle never informed company management of the problem.

Nine miners were trapped for over three days when they drilled into a nearby flooded, long-abandoned mine shaft. Fortunately, all were rescued.

Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker told the same Senate subcommittee the federal government should work with Pennsylvania to digitize all mining maps.

"Scanning mine maps into a digital format will provide the access needed by federal and state regulatory officials, mining operators and the public," said Schweiker. "Due to the thousands of mining maps in existence, this effort may take years and will only be successful with the cooperation and financial backing of the federal government."

Schweiker also called on the federal government to increase funding to improve safety training for miners, as well as technical training for the Bureau of Deep Mine Safety.

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Dave Hess told subcommittee members that the results of the state and federal investigations into the Quecreek mine incident should be available in November. A special commission convened by Schweiker to review mining operations in Pennsylvania will issue its report on Nov. 15.

"If laws and safety rules were violated, the governor has directed us to impose the penalties and sanctions against those responsible as a deterrent to future accidents," Hess said. "If DEP's own procedures need to be changed, we will change them because nothing is more important than miner safety."

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