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MSHA News Release No. 95-034
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: (703) 235-1452

August 17, 1995


The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has released its investigation report on a water outburst from an abandoned underground mine that claimed the life of a Buchanan County, Va., woman this May.

"While MSHA's jurisdiction ends after a mine has been sealed and abandoned, we are very much concerned that all possible precautions are taken during the sealing process to prevent similar tragedies in the future," said Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

"We are working with the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining and the Bureau of Mines to determine what steps can be taken to help reduce the likelihood of similar outbursts," McAteer said.

According to the report, MSHA cited Jewell Smokeless Coal Corporation, owner of the abandoned operation, for one violation of Federal standards in that the company had not filed a final map of the mine with MSHA after the mine was sealed in June 1994. MSHA's enforcement jurisdiction over the mine ended once the mine operator sealed it and notified MSHA that it had been abandoned.

The Virginia Department of Mined Land Reclamation (DLMR), which has jurisdiction over abandoned mines under the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, issued its report on the accident earlier this year.

The water outburst at the JSCC No. 18 mine near Whitewood, Va., on May 13, 1995, did not occur through a sealed mine opening but through a weak layer of weathered shale above the coal bed, at a point where the coal cropped out on a hillside. The outburst of an estimated 20,000 gallons per minute inundated a private residence, causing the death of Tammie Keene Givens, 26.

According to MSHA's report, at the point of outburst some 60 feet separated the abandoned mine workings from the ground surface; however, only 12 to 15 feet of this material was sedimentary formations, with the remaining material being soil and loose rock.

When the JSCC No. 18 mine was abandoned, the mine operator sealed mine openings to the surface with mortar-jointed block walls about 15 feet inside the mine openings, after which earthen material was compacted into the openings using a dozer. To carry away any water accumulations, polyethylene pipes were provided through the seals and earthen material to the surface, with ditches designed to carry away the water safely. No evidence of problems with the mine drainage had been reported before the outburst, according to MSHA's investigator.

For the text of the MSHA investigation report on the May 13, 1995, mine outburst, contact MSHA's Office of Information and Public Affairs at (703) 235-1452.