Army Corps of Engineers: Sago Mine Blast Stronger than First Reported

December 11, 2007

The deadly Sago Mine explosion in West Virginia may have been nearly seven times more powerful than previously reported, according to a government report obtained by the Sunday Gazette-Mail.

The 138-page Army Corps of Engineers study was obtained through the newspaper’s Freedom of Information Act request, and estimates that forces could have been as much as 629 pounds per square inch at one spot along a wall of foam blocks that sealed off an abandoned area of the Sago Mine.

In its own final report on the Sago disaster, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration reported that the explosive forces that destroyed the underground seals “exceeded 93” pounds per square inch.

MSHA experts are calling the Army Corps of Engineers report inaccurate, but agency officials conceded last week that the findings are important enough to alert the mining community.

Under the MINER Act, which was passed after the Sago Mine disaster killed 12 men in 2006, MSHA was required to write new mine seal strength standards. MSHA has until February to finalize the seal rule.

Richard Stickler, assistant labor secretary in charge of MSHA, told the Sunday Gazette-Mail that he plans to release the corps report and reopen a public comment period on MSHA’s proposed change.

“We’re on a deadline for getting this rule done, and we don’t want to cause any delays,” Stickler said. “But this deserves to be put out for comment.”

The Army Corps report used a computer model, known as a computational fluid dynamics or CFD study, to estimate explosive forces.

In a memo issued Friday, MSHA acting technical support director Linda F. Zeiler said that neither MSHA nor the Army Corps had accurate data on conditions in the Sago Mine at the time of the disaster, which makes accurate computer modeling impossible.

Information from: The Charleston Gazette,

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