"From day one, this commission was charged with looking at how Pennsylvania can make sure another mining family never has to endure what the families at Quecreek suffered through for 77 hours," said Gov. Mark Schweiker said. "This report clearly shows that, while Pennsylvania has been a trailblazer when it comes to mine safety, we still have a lot of work ahead of us."
Formed by Schweiker one day after the dramatic July rescue of nine miners at the Quecreek Mine in Somerset County, the commission was charged with conducting a top-to-bottom review of mining operations in Pennsylvania.
Based on the recommendations in the commission's report, Gov. Schweiker called for legislation that would make three key changes in Pennsylvania's mine-safety laws making coal operators, as well as individuals, responsible for mine safety; giving DEP the authority to adopt updated mine-safety requirements by regulation; and directing individuals and companies with mine maps to either turn in the original or a true and correct copy to the state repository in Uniontown.
Other major recommendations in the report include:
- Calling for the commonwealth to initiate a search for all final mine maps, creating a single commonwealth mine map repository, cataloging each map in its inventory, and archiving and making electronic recordings of all maps;
- Giving the commonwealth the authority to copy all mine maps in the possession of other people or organizations;
- Creating a database of coal-production information and correlating that information with mines in the commonwealth's possession;
- Consolidating the anthracite and bituminous coal-mine safety requirements into a single statute to take statewide advantage of numerous provisions found in the anthracite laws dealing with mine maps;
- Increasing the role of the Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of Deep Mine Safety in the permitting process and requiring the bureau to make comment on each mine permit application;
- Continuing the research into existing and developing Geophysical techniques to locate abandoned-mine void boundaries in addition to horizontal drilling;
- Operators and state, local and federal agencies should be trained in the Incident Command Center approach to coordinating a response to mine accidents;
- Miners should receive training in hazards associated with mine flooding and in knowing which warning signs to look for. They also should be specifically made aware of any mine-void hazards they are approaching during mining;
- DEP should develop new techniques, such as sampling the quality of water flowing into a mine, to determine if that can be used as an indicator of mine voids ahead; and
- Paying more attention to designing mines with flood-proof escape routes for miners.
Schweiker accepted all but one of the 48 recommendations made by the commission. He rejected a recommendation to reverse a decision he made in August that requires bituminous mine operators to drill ahead or submit hard information on the location of mine voids when they believe they are within 500 feet of a water-filled abandoned mine. Gov. Schweiker also ordered anthracite mine operators to provide the same hard information when they are 300 feet away from a void.
The commission recommended returning to the previous 200-foot standard, although that threshold could be overridden based on site-specific conditions.
"I understand the commission's intent, but until we can rely on mine maps and other site-specific information, the 500-foot safety buffer is an extra layer of protection that our miners must have when dealing with the unknown," said Schweiker."
The commission held four public hearings in October while gathering information for the report. These hearings included testimony from the public, one of the trapped miners, several of the miners who escaped the night of the accident, the United Mine Workers of America, the Pennsylvania Coal Association, and various industry and government officials.
Copies of the final report of the Governor's Commission on Abandoned Mine Voids and Mine Safety are available through the PA PowerPort at www.state.pa.us, PA Keyword: "Quecreek" (select "Mine Safety Commission").