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DOL/MSHA RIN: 1219-AB52 Publication ID: Fall 2007
Title: Sealing of Abandoned Areas
Abstract: The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) published an emergency temporary standard (ETS) on May 22, 2007. Under section 101(b) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (Mine Act) the ETS became effective immediately; however, MSHA must publish a final rule no later than nine months after publication of the ETS. In addition, section 10 of the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 (MINER Act) requires the Secretary of Labor to finalize mandatory standards relating to the sealing of abandoned areas in underground coal mines no later than December 15, 2007. Therefore, MSHA is issuing a final rule. This final rule will include new comprehensive standards for underground coal mines regarding seal design approval, strength and installation approval, construction, maintenance and repair, sampling and monitoring, training, and recordkeeping, all of which are necessary to protect miners from hazards of sealed areas. It also implements the requirements of section 10 of the MINER Act by increasing the level of overpressure for new seals.

Agency: Department of Labor(DOL) Priority: Other Significant
RIN Status: Previously published in the Unified Agenda Agenda Stage of Rulemaking: Final Rule Stage
Major: No Unfunded Mandates: No
CFR Citation: 30 CFR 75.335
Legal Authority: 30 USC 811
Legal Deadline:
Action Source Date
Final Statutory 12/15/2007

Statement of Need: MSHA issued the ETS in response to the grave danger that miners face when underground seals separating abandoned areas from active workings fail. However, as the ETS is effective until superseded by a mandatory standard, which MSHA shall promulgate within 9 months after publication of the ETS, the ETS provides miners continued critical protection that strengthens the requirement for the design, construction, maintenance, and repair of seals, as well as requirements for sampling, monitoring, and controlling atmospheres behind seals and providing training to miners constructing or repairing seals.

Summary of the Legal Basis: Promulgation of this regulation is authorized by section 101 of the Mine Act and by section 10 of the MINER Act.

Alternatives: This final rule would provide: (1) the safety protections afforded to miners by the existing ETS; and (2) additional protections through experience gained through the rule and comments received during rulemaking. MSHA has analyzed regulatory alternatives in its regulatory economic analysis (REA) in support of the ETS. MSHA prepared any analysis of the cost of two alternatives regarding seal application approval: (1) certification of a professional engineer along with supporting documentation; and (2) design based on actual explosion testing. MSHA also considered and included a discussion of alternatives in the preamble to the ETS without a cost analysis. MSHA requested comments on alternatives including seal design, sampling, construction, and seal strength.

Anticipated Costs and Benefits: The anticipated costs and benefits of the final rule focus on seals that would actively monitored to maintain an inert atmosphere and seals that would be strengthened to better withstand explosions, both of which would reduce injuries and fatalities. MSHA will prepare a regulatory economic analysis for the final rules.

Risks: Underground coal mines are dynamic work environments in which the working conditions can change rapidly. Caved, mined-out areas may contain coal dust and accumulated gas. This gas can be ignited by rock falls, lightning and, in some instances, fires started by spontaneous combustion. Seals are intended to isolate the environment within the sealed area from the active workings of the mine, and to prevent an explosion that may occur on the inby side of the seal from propagating to the outby side of the seal where miners work or travel. Seals must therefore be designed to withstand elevated pressures and also to prevent the sealed atmosphere from reaching the explosive range. Adequate seals are crucial to contain explosions and prevent potentially explosive or toxic gases from migrating into the active working areas of underground coal mines. Miners rely on seals to protect them from the potentially hazardous environments within the sealed area. Recent mine explosions have demonstrated that improvements in seals are needed.

Action Date FR Cite
Emergency Temporary Standard 05/22/2007 72 FR 28796
Extension of Comment Period 06/25/2007 72 FR 34609
Public Hearing 07/10/2007 72 FR 28796
Public Hearing 07/12/2007 72 FR 28796
Public Hearing 07/17/2007 72 FR 28796
Public Hearing 07/19/2007 72 FR 28796
Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) Comment Period Extended to 9/17/07 08/14/2007 72 FR 45358
Comment Period Ends 08/17/2007 72 FR 34609
Comment Period Extended 09/17/2007 72 FR 45358
Final Action 02/00/2008

Regulatory Flexibility Analysis Required: Undetermined Government Levels Affected: None
Federalism: No
Energy Effects: No Included in the Regulatory Plan: Yes
RIN Information URL: Public Comment URL:
Initial (Administrative Startup and /or Capital) Cost: $0 Yearly (Annual Operating) Cost: $0
Agency Contact:
Patricia W. Silvey
Director, Office of Standards, Regulations, and Variances
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Room 631,1100 Wilson Boulevard,Room 2350
Arlington,VA 22209-3939
Phone:202 693-9440
Fax:202 693-9441