State Asks Pennsylvania Mine Operators to Review Plans and Maps

A letter is in the mail for all underground coal mine operators in Pennsylvania, courtesy of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The department wants mine operators to review all their plans and maps as a precaution after the Quecreek Mining accident in Somerset County.

Such a review "would be prudent for all deep mine operator... in light of the accident in Somerset County," said DEP Deputy Secretary for Mineral Resources J. Scott Roberts.

Nine miners at the Quecreek Mine were trapped underground for four days after they cut through the wall of a flooded, abandoned mine that did not appear on their maps. Millions of gallons of water poured into the new mine where they were working, but miraculously, they survived and were rescued early Sunday morning, July 28.

DEP's Bureau of Deep Mine Safety in Uniontown sent the letter. The bureau oversees and regulates the occupational safety and health programs and inspections for underground mines. Copies also were sent to the local chapters of the United Mine Workers of America and the staff of the Bureau of Deep Mine Safety.

"The Bureau of Deep Mine Safety is issuing this urgent safety advisory concerning the importance of having accurate and reliable maps of abandoned mine workings," wrote Richard E. Stickler, director of the Bureau of Deep Mine Safety.

Saying the recent events at Quecreek Mine clearly point out the need for mining crews to know the location of active mining relative to abandoned workings, he added, "The consequence of inaccurate maps of abandoned workings can be catastrophic."

He said mine operators should immediately review their mining plans and identify questionable areas so that appropriate safety precautions can be implemented.

Inspectors with the Bureau of Deep Mine Safety also will review plans submitted by any mine operator who has active workings within 1,000 feet of an abandoned mine.

As of 2001, there were a total of 56 underground mines reporting production in the commonwealth. Forty-four of those mines are operating in the bituminous region, mostly in western Pennsylvania, and 12 in the anthracite region, which is mostly in the northeast. Of the bituminous underground mines, 33 are operating adjacent to abandoned mine pools.

On July 29, Gov. Mark Schweiker announced the formation of a special commission to investigate the cause of the Quecreek Mine accident. He named Dr. Raja V. Ramani, professor emeritus of Mining and GeoEnvironmental Engineering at Pennsylvania State University, to lead the panel.

Schweiker and President George W. Bush planned to attend an event honoring the nine miners who were rescued scheduled for 11 a.m. today in Pittsburgh. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao was also expected to attend.

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