The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration said Nov. 29 that federal inspectors issued 210 citations and 14 orders during special impact inspections conducted at nine coal mines and five metal/nonmetal mines in October.
The monthly inspections began in force in April 2010 following the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia, which killed 29 miners. The inspections involve mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns, MSHA noted. Notable is that MSHA citations are only accusations, and so are not final and are routinely appealed by coal operators to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.
As an example from October, two separate impact inspections were conducted at Tunnel Ridge LLC‘s Tunnel Ridge longwall mine in Ohio County, W.Va., on Oct. 9 and Oct. 23. Inspectors issued 24 citations and two orders during these two impact inspections, the fourth and fifth for this operation.
Tunnel Ridge LLC is an Alliance Resource Partners LP (NASDAQ: ARLP) company and this mine is a new operation working the Pittsburgh coal seam that recently got a longwall start after a period of room-and-pillar development mining.
During the first inspection at Tunnel Ridge, enforcement personnel traveled all the conveyer belts and cited the operator six times for accumulations of combustible materials, MSHA said. Inspectors found fresh coal spillage up to three feet deep, loose coal and coal dust, and float coal dust along long distances of beltlines, around the belt structure and bottom rollers, and on the mine floor.
“Misaligned belts and belt conveyor flights, missing bottom rollers and damaged belt conveyor components also were found,” the agency said. “One walkway within 2 feet of an energized belt was obstructed with loose rock, loose coal and sloughage, and the mine floor was irregular and slick. These conditions exposed miners to potential entanglement between the belt and the moving rollers; the accumulation of combustible materials increased the potential for a belt or mine fire. Additionally, the mine operator failed to record a number of hazardous conditions in its pre-shift/on-shift record book.”
In order to examine the mine when all mechanized mining units were up and running, inspectors returned two weeks later. This time, they focused on health compliance and issued seven citations and two orders. Tunnel Ridge was cited four times for failure to maintain the dust collection systems in permissible condition on four different roof bolting machines. The operator also failed to comply with the approved ventilation plan, MSHA said. While loading coal, the continuous mining machine produced no water and no water pressure when tested by the inspector. Failure to maintain the roof bolter dust collection system and comply with the approved parameters on the continuous miner allowed respirable dust to be exhausted into the mine atmosphere, MSHA said.
Tunnel Ridge also was issued an unwarrantable failure order for coal accumulations of dry loose coal and coal dust in depths of 3- to 28-inches and approximate length of 585 feet in multiple entries. These conditions were not identified during the required pre-shift examinations. Consequently, this section of the mine was shut down for more than 25 hours.
“Workplace examinations are a vital part of keeping mines safe, and these inspections exposed alarming inadequacies in those exams,” said MSHA head Joseph Main. “MSHA issued new health and safety rules in August requiring mine operators to conduct more thorough examinations to find and fix hazards to prevent this very situation. Mine operators cannot continue to put miners at risk by letting hazardous conditions languish until MSHA cites them.”
Other coal operations inspected by MSHA in October under this program included those of Arch Coal (NYSE: ACI), Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR) and bankrupt Patriot Coal. Also getting attention was Deseret Generation & Transmission‘s Deserado longwall mine in Colorado, which is the sole coal supplier to Deseret’s Bonanza power plant in Utah.
Since April 2010, MSHA said it has conducted 523 impact inspections and issued 9,160 citations, 889 orders and 38 safeguards.