At the request of the Office of the Attorney General, the report temporarily will remain confidential because the investigation into possibly civil or criminal liability in the accident continues.
"The department will continue to cooperate with state and federal investigators to ensure complete impartiality and protect the integrity of the investigation until we can satisfactorily answer questions about how this accident occurred," said Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Acting Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty.
In February, DEP asked OIG, a separate agency, to review the Bureau of Deep Mine Safety's implementation of state safety requirements, specifically provisions of the Bituminous Coal Mine Act. Questions arose during DEP's review about how safety requirements were understood by department personnel and how this understanding was communicated within DEP and to outside parties.
The department is currently reviewing OIG's six-page report. It is continuing with its own investigation into the accident, which occurred July 24, 2002, when nine miners working in the Quecreek Mine in Somerset County accidentally broke through to the abandoned Saxman Mine at approximately 8:50 p.m., flooding Quecreek and trapping the nine miners for 77 hours. All were rescued.
While investigations continue, DEP has already taken steps to enhance safety procedures and protect mine workers from similar accidents. Those actions, which include additional duties for mining safety officials to ensure a more thorough review and application of mine safety standards, were implemented in February. These measures are being taken in addition to the process changes and improvements instituted in the months following the Quecreek accident.
McGinty said the department will also be coming forward with additional safety measures. DEP has a working group that is developing new initiatives that include enhanced procedures for handling mine maps, improved internal coordination within the department, improved coordination among state agencies, and better communication between state and federal officials.
In addition, the department will work with miners, mining companies, legislators and other interested parties to discuss whether legislative modifications are necessary to modernize the state's 32-year-old deep mine safety law and bring it up to date with current technology and other mining- related issues. Former Gov. Mark Schweiker's Commission on Abandoned Mine Voids and Mine Safety recommended changes in its Nov. 15, 2002, report.
"The state has been working to make sure we have in place precautionary measures that will keep miners safe. We need to continue doing everything in our power to implement any and all necessary improvements that will benefit everyone involved in Pennsylvania's mining industry," McGinty said.