The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration said July 31 that federal inspectors issued 177 citations, 22 orders and one safeguard during special impact inspections conducted at nine coal mines and three metal/nonmetal mines in June.
The monthly inspections, which began in force in April 2010 following the explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, involve mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns.
Notable is that MSHA findings from these inspections can be appealed, and usually are, to a federal mine safety commission.
As an example from June, MSHA conducted an impact inspection on June 21 during the second shift at Bledsoe Coal Corp.’s Abner Branch Rider mine in Leslie County, Ky. Inspectors, as per standard procedure, immediately after arriving on site seized and monitored the mine’s communications systems to ensure that advance notification was not provided by workers aboveground to the miners underground.
The 19 citations and 12 withdrawal orders inspectors issued as a result of violations found effectively shut down the entire mine for eight days. Violations included accumulations of combustible materials in the motor compartment of a utility vehicle located in the primary escapeway; accumulations of loose coal, coal dust, black float coal dust and hydraulic oil on the roof bolting machine, along the mine floor and against the ribs; and an improperly functioning methane monitor. MSHA said it also cited the operator for defective, bare electrical wires and inadequate splices on the utility vehicle in the primary escapeway.
Also, MSHA said the mine operator did not provide adequate roof/rib control and failed to follow the mine’s approved roof control plan. The operator also failed to identify, record and correct the absence of mesh that would prevent the fall of sections of the mine’s ribs and roof, MSHA stated
On April 12, 2011, MSHA had issued a pattern of violations notice to the Abner Branch Rider mine, one of only two mines ever to receive such a notice. Since then, the mine has been issued 53 orders.
The June impact inspection was the third conducted at the Abner Branch Rider mine. The mine’s operations returned to normal on June 29 after the violations were abated and the withdrawal orders terminated.
“The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act requires operators to provide a safe workplace, and that includes finding and fixing hazards in order to keep miners from getting injured or killed. If operators ignore that responsibility and leave it to MSHA to find their problems, they should know that MSHA will use the full force of the law – including closure orders – to protect the nation’s miners,” said Joseph Main, the head of MSHA. “It is clear that, in the case of Abner Branch, a mine already on a pattern of violations, all of MSHA’s tools may not be enough. But until that changes, we will use what we have and aggressively enforce the law to ensure men and women who go into a mine at the beginning of a shift can come back out at the end of it.”
Bledsoe Coal is a unit of James River Coal (NASDAQ: JRCC). MSHA data shows that Abner Branch Rider produced 151,714 tons of coal in the first half of this year and 292,823 tons in all of 2011.
Another inspection microscope focused on new longwall mine
As a second example, MSHA personnel conducted an impact inspection on June 20 at Tunnel Ridge LLC‘s new Tunnel Ridge mine in Ohio County, W.Va., during the evening shift. The inspection party secured the mine’s phones to prevent advance notice of the inspection. MSHA issued 34 enforcement actions, including 29 citations and five unwarrantable failure orders. This impact inspection was the second at the Tunnel Ridge mine, a new operation in the Pittsburgh coal seam controlled by Alliance Resource Partners LP (NASDAQ: ARLP).
An unwarrantable failure order was issued for failure to maintain the intake escapeway on the longwall section from the mine’s working face. The escapeway was obstructed with mud and water up to 15 inches deep for a distance of 300 feet, MSHA claimed. A subsequent order was issued for the mine operator’s failure to identify this hazardous condition during the preshift examination. By not recognizing and recording this hazard, the mine operator placed miners at risk of not having a safe way to exit the mine.
The mine operator also was cited for failing to conduct required methane tests at each working face, MSHA added. The Tunnel Ridge mine has a history of methane liberation. Failure to perform adequate methane checks during the mining and roof bolting cycle could allow an unknown quantity of methane gas to accumulate without miners’ knowledge and lead to a possible methane ignition, the agency said.
An additional order was issued for the mine operator’s failure to conduct an adequate preshift examination of the section. Conducting proper examinations and correcting hazardous conditions are essential to protect the health and safety of miners. Inadequate examinations allow miners to remain in areas where hazardous conditions may exist which, if left uncorrected, expose miners to the risk of severe injuries, illnesses or death.
Alliance said in a May 23 conference presentation that the longwall at Tunnel Ridge began operating on May 16. The company is projecting 2.8 million tons of production from this mine in 2012, growing to its full run rate of 6.5 million to 6.8 million tons per year in 2013. The mine has been in pre-longwall development production since an early 2010 production start. MSHA data shows output of 420,084 tons in the first half of this year and 275,227 tons in all of 2011.