Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health
Release of the Quecreek Mine Inundation Investigation Report
New Stanton, Pennsylvania
August 12, 2003
For the past year, the investigators of the Mine Safety and Health Administration have been working on their report on causes of the inundation that overwhelmed the Quecreek Mine, near Somerset last July. As you remember, nine miners struggled through the rising waters and escaped. And as you also recall, the whole world was focused on western Pennsylvania during three days of sustained teamwork by hundreds of people that ended in the rescue of nine more miners . Recently we took part in the anniversary celebration of that triumph. It was a great day for all of us who were there.
Today, we are issuing the Mine Safety and Health Administration's investigation report on the Quecreek inundation. MSHA's chief investigator, Pat Brady, and specialists from various disciplines throughout MSHA, spent months examining the site, combing through records, and interviewing numerous individuals. Their investigation has now been completed, and most importantly, it sets our course for preventing similar events in the future.
At a news conference on September 10 of last year, I announced that MSHA's investigators had located a map of the adjacent, water-filled Harrison No. 2 mine that appeared to be later in date than the map in the State of Pennsylvania's map repository. The MSHA investigators have confirmed that the main cause of the inundation was use of the undated and uncertified mine map, and the root cause behind it was that no certified final mine map for Harrison No. 2 existed in the State of Pennsylvania's mine map repository. A contributing factor was the inadequacy of overall systems for managing old mining maps and records.
Further contributing to the incident, the parties involved in permitting and operating the mine did not take additional steps to confirm or address the potential hazard, such as drilling to determine the extent of mining, or de-watering the abandoned works.
Black Wolf Coal Company, Musser Engineering, Inc., and PBS Coals, Inc. have each been cited by MSHA for violation of a Federal mine safety standard in using the inaccurate and outdated map. The investigators noted that while the final map may not have been available, other information would have indicated that the boundaries used were questionable. Penalties for the violations will be determined at a later date.
However, the most important outcome of the investigative process has been its lessons about prevention. And, while the investigation report identifies the causes, it is by no means the end of the work that must be done to prevent another accident such as a Quecreek. Here is what MSHA is doing:
- In the short term, after the Quecreek incident, MSHA alerted the mining industry concerning the inundation hazard, reviewed plans of all underground mines operating near old abandoned works or mines, and worked with mine operators to provide additional protective measures where needed.
- Looking towards longer-term solutions, MSHA has participated in several demonstrations of technology with potential to detect mine voids.
- On October 29, 2002, in Charleston, W.Va, MSHA held a symposium on Geotechnical Methods for Mapping Verification. On July 29 and 30, 2003, MSHA cosponsored with the Office of Surface Mining and the University of Kentucky an Interactive Forum on Geophysical Technologies for Detecting Underground Coal Mine Voids.
- Later this year, MSHA expects to start awarding some of the $10 million in grants for demonstration projects on technology addressing this issue and for mine map digitization programs.
- MSHA also is working with the Office of Surface Mining and State mine agencies towards a more effective overall system for archiving and digitizing mine maps.
- And this week, we are distributing a public service announcement asking the public to share any old mine maps in their custody.
In addition to being the year of the Quecreek rescue, last year was the mining industry's safest year on record. Our goal is to continue that momentum and have every miner going home safely at the end of every working day.
Thank you. I'll be happy to answer questions.