The owner of the Sago Mine said Wednesday it was ordering emergency shelters to protect miners at all of its underground coal operations.International Coal Group announced the move about a month before plans for installing the shelters are due to be filed with the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training.“International Coal Group is committed to protecting our miners,” said company president Ben Hatfield. “Our prompt order for emergency mine shelters shows we will move quickly to comply with all mandates involving miner safety.”Scott Depot-based ICG also announced the shelter purchases a day before the expected release this morning of a United Mine Workers report on the January 2006 Sago Mine disaster.The UMW report is expected to be more critical of the company than previous reports by state regulators and independent investigator Davitt McAteer.The Sago Mine is a non-union operation, but the UMW took part in the disaster investigation after several workers appointed the union as their representative for the probe.In the Jan. 2, 2006, disaster, a methane explosion inside a sealed area ripped through the Upshur County mine. One worker was killed by the initial blast, and 11 others died of carbon monoxide poisoning before rescuers reached them 40 hours later.One miner, Randal McCloy Jr., survived and continues what his doctors call a miraculous recovery.Since 1969, federal mine safety regulators have had the authority to require mine operators to provide rescue chambers to protect miners from deadly smoke and fumes after explosions or during underground fires.But, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration never used that authority.
After Sago, the Manchin administration and West Virginia lawmakers did not initially require emergency shelters in the state’s new mine safety law. But in June 2006, a requirement for shelters was added to a rule to implement that law. Also, Illinois passed a similar requirement.In February, MSHA took what some in the industry believe is a backdoor approach. Agency officials did not directly require shelters, but ordered mine operators to provide miners with 96 hours of emergency air. A shelter is one option toward meeting that order.Last week, state mine safety director Ronald Wooten approved the use of five different emergency shelter designs in West Virginia.ICG opted to order inflatable units, called the ChemBio LifeShelter, from A.L. Lee Corp., based in Beckley.Hatfield said the units “offered the best combination of safety, design and construction, ease-of-use and portability.”
In a news release, ICG said that the units would meet both the West Virginia and Illinois shelter rules, and the MSHA requirement for 96 hours of air.Ira Gamm, an ICG spokesman, said that the units — for all of ICG’s mines — would cost “in excess of $3 million.” The company hopes to have them delivered and installed by the end of the year, Gamm said.Other shelters approved for use in West Virginia are made by Draeger Safety Inc., Kennedy Metal Products, Strata Products and Modern Mine Safety Supply.To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.