Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mines Not Installing Communications Equipment

According to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, only about 8% of required underground coal mines in the United States has added improved communications and tracking equipment that could help miners escape an explosion or fire. This situattion exists more than four years after the Sago Mine disaster. Nationwide, 415 active underground mines are required to have added this equipment, but only 34 have such equipment installed and fully operational.

West Virginia is doing better with about 16 percent of the state's underground mines having installed fully operational systems. But because of the state's larger number of underground mines, that percentage still means that 121 mines there do not have advanced communications and tracking. Twenty-three out of 144 West Virginia mines have complied, according to the MSHA data.

At Sago, 12 miners became trapped deep inside an International Coal Group mine in Upshur County following a huge methane explosion on Jan. 2, 2006. The miners had no way to communicate with the surface, and they died before rescue crews could find them. Three weeks later, two more miners died when they became lost while trying to escape a mine fire at Massey Energy's Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine in Logan County.
The federal MINER Act tried to set a hard deadline of June 2009 for mine operators to have emergency response plans that included wireless communications and tracking systems. But, the law also gave mine operators a loophole, allowing "alternative means of compliance" if companies argue they can't meet the MINER Act standards. (Energy Central, 3/22/10)

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