Investigation into Quecreek Mine Accident Begins

July 30, 2002
As the miners emerged one-by-one early Sunday morning, muddy and shaken but alive and well, from the Quecreek Mine in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, the rejoicing began. "It's a miracle," was a phrase repeated often by people discussing the successful rescue: A miracle of modern technology, good safety training, an experienced rescue team and prayer.

"The accident at Quecreek was one of those worst-case scenarios that the mining community works so hard to prevent. The ultimate happy ending proved the value of decades of investment in mine safety techniques," said Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. "The training of the miners combined with the preparedness of both the private and government employees involved in the rescue effort helped to bring about this successful outcome."

She said she was grateful to the team at the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the other rescue workers - federal and state employees and private citizens - who traveled great distances and worked without rest to rescue the miners. "We are grateful for your courage, perseverance and heart," Chao told them.

Most of those rescuers have returned home. And now that the rescue trucks, ambulances, helicopters and crowds have dispersed, the questions begin.

Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker announced he's forming a special commission to investigate the causes of accident, which trapped nine miners for 77 hours from Wednesday night, July 24, until early Sunday morning, July 28, when they were rescued.

He named Dr. Raja V. Ramani, professor emeritus of Mining and GeoEnvironmental Engineering at Pennsylvania State University, to lead the panel. Ramani has more than 40 years' of experience in mining and is a recognized expert in the design, operation and safety policies of underground mining operations.

"Pennsylvania miners and their families need to be assured that we will do everything within our power to make sure that an event like this never happens again. That should be the legacy of this frightful experience," said Schweiker. "The miners and their families need to know that when those miners do go underground, they are going into a stable working environment."

He said the nine-member panel will include representatives of the United Mine Workers; mine engineers and surveyors; mine safety, health and mine rescue; the state Department of Environmental Protection; MSHA; and coal mine operators. The commission is expected to look at all aspects of the accident, including:

  • Design and layout of the mine to determine if the accident could have been prevented;
  • Permit review procedures, specifically the information needed to make permit decisions, such as maps of nearby abandoned mines (the abandoned mine that contained the water that flooded the Quecreek mine was no longer shown on maps);
  • How the mine was operated to ensure the safety of the workers and to detect mine voids;
  • Inspection and compliance with approved mine plans and operation requirements; and
  • Rescue and emergency response, including policies for sharing information with the families of miners affected by the accident.

"We must learn as much as possible from incidents like this," said Ramani. "An inquiry completed with thoroughness and urgency can be an effective means to help make mining more safe in the future."

It is unknown at this time if the Quecreek mine will reopen. The rescue effort, which likely will be paid by the mine operator, Black Wolf Mining Co., and its insurance carrier, is expected to cost several million dollars. Cleanup will send the bill even higher. And it is unknown at this point what MSHA and the state Department of Environmental Protection will find during their investigations of the accident and its environmental impact.

For more information, visit the PA PowerPort at www.state.pa.us, PA Keyword: "Quecreek."

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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