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MSHA News Release No. 95-039
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Contact: (703) 235-1452

October 16, 1995


Underground coal mine operators need to evaluate their mine sites to determine the potential for water outbursts from abandoned workings, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has informed the mining community. The warning was prompted by such a "blowout" from an abandoned mine that claimed the life of a Buchanan County, Va., woman this May.

"We need to make sure that all necessary precautions are taken when mines are abandoned to prevent similar tragedies in the future," said Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

In a program information bulletin distributed to underground mine operators and other interested parties, MSHA noted that the mining industry has long recognized that abandoned mines must be sealed in such a way as to assure that any water buildup in the abandoned works will be safely contained. In some circumstances, the agency noted, even if enough coal is left in place along the outcrop, strata directly above the coal may be too weak to contain the water buildup.

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

MSHA's program information bulletin reviews current standards for abandoned mine sealing. The agency also noted that the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM), along with state agencies, is currently evaluating methods of determining the size of the outcrop barrier and recommended practices may change.

The water outburst at the Jewell Smokeless Coal Corporation No. 18 mine near Whitewood, Va., on May 13, 1995, occurred through a weak layer of weathered shale above the coal bed where the coal cropped out on a hillside. The outburst of hundreds of thousands of gallons of water struck a private residence, causing the death of Tammie Keene Givens, 26.

"While MSHA's enforcement jurisdiction over the mine had ended earlier, after the mine operator sealed it and notified MSHA that it had been abandoned, MSHA and the entire mining community share the concerns for the citizens of the mining region and we solicit assistance from everyone--miners, families, mine operators, and other state and federal officials--as to suggestions on how to prevent such accidents from happening in the future," McAteer said.

Copies of MSHA's Program Information Bulletin No. P95-24, "Blowouts of Impounded Water From Abandoned Underground Mines," may be obtained from the agency's Coal Mine Safety and Health office at (703) 235-1140.