The order comes as the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and federal officials continue to a investigate the July mining accident that almost claimed the lives of nine miners at the Quecreek Mine in Somerset County.
The governor's order covers 19 bituminous and 12 anthracite deep-mine operations in Pennsylvania, and is based on a DEP mine-by-mine survey to determine where there may be questions about the accuracy of maps locating mine voids.
"The results of the DEP survey of deep-mine operations throughout the state clearly shows we need to require mine operators to take more steps to detect water filled mine voids much sooner than they've done in the past," said Schweiker. "Rather than wait for the final results of federal and state investigations into Quecreek, we need to take action now to safeguard the lives of coal miners in Pennsylvania."
The nine miners were trapped in the Quecreek Mine for 77 hours before being rescued. The mine flooded when miners broke through to an abandoned mine, even though mining maps indicated they were hundreds of feet away from the abandoned mine.
"We want 'hard information' from the operators on where these voids are; we don't want to rely on old maps," Schweiker said. "Techniques like drilling ahead of mining will go a long way toward providing the proof we're looking for and will help save lives."
Schweiker's order requires bituminous mine operators to positively identify voids ahead of where they are mining if they believe they are within 500 feet of a water-filled mine void. This more than doubles the current 200-foot requirement and provides miners with an extra margin of safety.
Under the governor's order, if a mining company is not already drilling ahead to locate mine voids, the mine operator must submit positive information to DEP's Bureau of Deep Mine Safety as to where they believe a mine void is and detail how the company plans to mine when they get within 500 feet of the abandoned mine.
"Mining companies must provide that hard information we're looking for, or they can't continue to mine," warned Schweiker.
Under the same order, anthracite coal mine operators must drill the test holes when they are within 300 feet of a charted abandoned mine. There are different regulations for the anthracite coal operators because they proceed at a much slower rate of coal removal than can be done in a bituminous mine.