Investigators Issue Preliminary Report about Causes of Quecreek Mine Accident

A preliminary report issued by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection concludes the Quecreek Mine accident was caused by the lack of a final map that showed the full extent of the mine workings in the flooded Saxman mine.

The report was prepared as part of the joint investigation of the accident being done by the DEP and MSHA. A separate report of Gov. Mark Schweiker's Commission on Abandoned Mine Voids and Mine Safety is due later this month.

"I promised a full and complete investigation of the causes of the Quecreek Mine accident and to take whatever steps need to be taken to ensure the safety of miners throughout Pennsylvania," said Schweiker. "[This is the] first of several reports is being issued that sets the basic facts surrounding the accident and pulls no punches in making recommendations on what needs to be changed."

The preliminary report shows that in preparing the application for the Quecreek Mine, the company used an undated map showing the old Saxman mine workings as they were in 1961. But a 1964 map of the Saxman Mine found by investigators at the Windber Museum could have prevented the accident because it showed clearly that mining occurred at the point of the breakthrough in the Quecreek Mine.

"Without the benefit of having the 1964 map, the miners thought they were 300 feet away from the abandoned mine at the point they broke through," noted Schweiker. "If an accurate map of the area was filed with DEP, the accident would never have happened."

The preliminary report shows two apparent violations of state law:

  • A now deceased state mine inspector failed to turn over all maps and papers when he retired in 1970, including a map that revealed more mining had been done at Quecreek after 1961; and
  • Operators of the Saxman Mine never filed a final, certified map with DEP when the mine ceased production in 1963.

Investigators interviewed more than 50 witnesses involved in every aspect of the Quecreek Mine and the response to the accident, including former inspectors, mine workers and engineers.

The 1964 map was found by investigators at the Windber Coal Heritage Center Museum among papers donated by the granddaughter of Clyde Maize, the former mine inspector who retired from the state in 1970 and died in 1976. Inspectors were required by law to pass their maps on to their successors.

No official final map of the mine, which ceased production in 1963, was uncovered by investigators.

Since 1911, state law has required bituminous mine operators to turn in an official final map of mine workings to the Department of Mines and to provide a similar map to the mine inspector. But in the case of the Saxman mine, no final map was found, and the inspector had the most recent map.

The investigation also determined there were no unusual conditions in the mine itself that would have warned the miners that a breakthrough was imminent. An inspection by DEP the day before the accident confirmed the miners' testimony. The Quecreek Mine was considered a wet mine due to groundwater leaking into the mine from the geologic strata above and below the coal being mined.

To ensure accidents can be avoided in the future, the report proposes 17 changes to Pennsylvania's 1961 Deep Mine Safety law, including:

  • Establish a comprehensive index and a digitized archive of mine maps to ensure their availability;
  • Create new procedures that ensure mine inspectors to turn over all maps and information they have on file when they cease employment;
  • Require mine operators to provide DEP with hard evidence of the location of mine voids, not just rely on maps that can be old and outdated and cross check information by using coal production records;
  • Grant DEP the authority to adopt updated safety requirements, rather than having to go through the process of amending the law each time; and
  • Authorize DEP to take enforcement actions against mine operators who violate state laws.

Anyone with information related to the Quecreek Mine accident should contact Ellsworth Pauley of DEP at (724) 439-7469 or e-mail [email protected] Additional information should be submitted within 30 days.

Copies of the preliminary Quecreek Mine accident report are available at www.state.pa.us, keyword: "Quecreek Mine."

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