Feds Propose Concrete Pipe System for Escaping Mines

November 8, 2007

Federal regulators believe they’ve found a quick and safe way for miners to escape fires or explosions in underground mines.

A reusable system of 30- or 42-inch-diameter concrete pipes installed in underground mines could serve as a protected escape path and provide miners with breathable air. It would provide the same lifesaving benefits as a refuge chamber or air packs while providing a safe route out of the mine, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration said.

The proposed mine rescue system, called The Great Escape, is scheduled to be unveiled today at MSHA’s Approval and Certification Center in Triadelphia, W. Va..

“This is a good system,” said Mark Skiles, MSHA’s director of Technical Support. “This will save lives.”

Skiles said mine operators could install the pipes as mining advances underground and then pull them out as mining retreats.

“That’s the beauty of it, it’s all reusable,” Skiles said. “You do it just like you do track. As the section is advanced, you add more pipe, and when it retreats, you take the pipe out.”

An industry official who was not aware of the proposal was skeptical.

“Where are you going to put it? How will it be maintained? How will it withstand the explosive forces?” asked Bruce Watzman, a lobbyist on safety issues for the National Mining Association. “There are lots of things that immediately come to mind.”

West Virginia’s mine safety chief also questioned the proposed system.

“I haven’t heard much about it, but I have a lot of questions, like what kind of explosive forces would it withstand,” said Ron Wooten, director of the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training.

The Great Escape was developed because it is better for miners to escape from a fire or explosion than to build a barricade or use a refuge chamber, MSHA officials said.

Davitt McAteer, who headed MSHA under President Clinton, said The Great Escape could improve mine rescues.

“Anything that moves the ball forward is a positive thing, and this has the potential for moving the ball forward,” he said.

Interest in mine rescue was spurred by the January 2006 deadly explosion at West Virginia’s Sago Mine and was renewed after this past summer’s death of six miners and three rescue workers at the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah.

Information from: The Charleston Gazette,

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