Federal Mine Officials Issue Final Rule on Underground Seals

April 21, 2008

The nation’s coal operators have six months to submit plans for complying with new federal requirements covering stronger seals and increased monitoring to ward off explosions in underground coal mines.

The changes stem from a Jan. 2, 2006, methane gas explosion at West Virginia’s Sago Mine that resulted in the deaths of 12 miners, and from a May 20, 2006, explosion at the Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan County, Kentucky, that killed five. Both explosions occurred in sealed sections of the mines.

On April 18, the Mine Safety and Health Administration published final rules that require underground seals to withstand pressures of at least 50 pounds per square inch. The old standard was 20 psi, but MSHA imposed the 50 psi standard last year on an emergency basis.

Mine operators also must monitor for explosive gases in sealed-off areas, but only if seals can’t withstand forces of up to 120 psi. If an explosive condition is discovered, miners must be withdrawn from the work area or the mine.

Monitoring is not required for seals built to withstand forces of 120 psi or greater.

United Mine Workers spokesman Phil Smith said the union was generally pleased with the final rules.

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