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District 5 - Coal Mine Safety and Health
Joint Letter to Coal Operators and Engineers


December 01, 1997


Mining in proximity to abandoned mines or mine workings often poses additional hazards to mine personnel. The continuing problem of accidental hole-throughs into abandoned mine workings stresses the need to employ every resource available to prevent such occurrences. Included with this letter are some suggested guidelines developed to remind mine operators and engineering personnel of their responsibility to the mining community. Your cooperation in diligently applying these measures will provide our miners with a safer work environment.

District Manager Chief, DMME
MSHA - District 5

Guidelines for Certifying Engineers of Mine Maps and Mine Operators


Locating Abandoned Mines Near Active Operations

The following suggested guidelines have been developed in order to remind operators, engineering personnel, and mapping services of their responsibility to the mining community. Every effort should be put forth to stop accidental hole-throughs into abandoned mines.

  1. Research

    1. Conduct a diligent search of existing company map files.

    2. Ask property owner about maps of abandoned mines if owner is different from operator.

    3. Talk to other mining companies that operate or have operated in the area to see what maps or knowledge they may have of abandoned mines.

    4. Talk to people that live in surrounding communities. Determine whether they remember any mining activity in the area.

    5. The outcrop of the property should be walked if it is "reasonably accessible". Reasonably accessible means that there is an existing strip bench or roads and outcrop can be located.

    6. Examine topographical maps (and flight photographs, if they exist) of the area for signs of disturbances or old structures. Certain flight photographs are available through the Department of Transportation in Richmond (contact James Fultz or Mary Eaton at 804-786-2575).

    7. Contact the Customer Assistance Center of the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, if you have identifying information such as mine name, operator name, or mine index number. The Client Assistance Center will search the database of mine maps for information regarding the mines in question. The Division of Mined Land Reclamation has been compiling abandoned mine maps into digital map format. While not complete, much information is available. The Operator Assistance Group (540-523-8229) of the Division of Mines will conduct GPS surveys of abandoned mine portals upon request.

  2. Accuracy

    1. Reflect findings accurately.

    2. If unknowns exist, state so.

    3. Use every means available to map actual conditions.

    4. Take responsibility for effective review and response.

    5. Recognize individual accountability for actions of the engineer and mine operator.

  3. Training

    1. The engineer should explain potential hazards to operators and contractors associated with an area to be mined.

    2. The engineer should identify and make known low areas of the mine and likely water and gas hazards.

    3. The operator should have an action plan developed and reviewed with miners as required to assure safe evacuation in case of an accidental hole-through.

    4. The engineer should coordinate with operators in identifying areas that will require drilling.

    5. The mine operator should train employees concerning conditions to which they should be alert to when approaching known abandoned mines.

Following the above guidelines does not necessarily mean that a mine operator or certifying engineer will not be issued a violation should an accidental hole-through occur, but it would certainly be included in the determination.

Engineers, mine operators, and/or contractors should make use of available technology, such as long-hole drilling and seismic surveys, to locate abandoned mines and minimize the potential for accidental hole-throughs.

Remember that the costs of accidental hole-throughs in terms of potential loss of life, production, equipment down time, and compensation greatly outweigh the investment in research, accuracy and training.