The mining industry is getting more time to have its say about final federal rules requiring stronger seals for abandoned sections in underground coal mines.
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said Tuesday it plans to take additional public comment on the rules, including a fifth public hearing next month in Virginia. The hearing is set for Jan. 15 and the comment period is scheduled to close three days later.
MSHA said the extra time will allow more review and comment on a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers draft report on the forces unleashed by a methane-gas explosion at the Sago Mine in Upshur County in January 2006. The accident killed 12 miners and helped prompt Congress and several mining states to adopt sweeping changes to coal mine safety laws. MSHA has disputed the accuracy of the report, but also said it would reopen public comment.
The corps estimated the explosion could have produced as much as 629 pounds per square inch at one spot along a wall of concrete foam blocks that sealed off an abandoned area of the Sago Mine. MSHA reported the explosion, which destroyed the seals, exceeded 93 psi. The seals had been built to withstand 20 psi as required by MSHA at the time.
MSHA adopted the rules on an emergency basis last May after determining the Sago explosion had been caused by lightning. The agency is required by a sweeping mine safety law passed last year to adopt final rules by February.
The final rule strikes at a long-standing practice of sealing and forgetting abandoned sections of underground mines, which MSHA says affects about 372 of the nation’s 670 underground coal mines. MSHA has estimated those mines will pay $39.7 million annually to meet the new requirements.
The rule requires seals capable of withstanding blast pressures of at least 50 pounds per square inch, if mine operators make sure the atmosphere behind those seals remains nonexplosive. Mines could avoid monitoring by building seals to withstand 120 psi. And mines at risk of more powerful explosions would need even stronger seals.
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