West Virginia Secretary of State Betty Ireland has approved emergency rules implementing Gov. Joe Manchin’s new coal mine rescue legislation.An emergency rule must be approved by the secretary of state or it will not take effect until 42 days after it is filed.Ireland signed off on the rules Thursday, starting the clock ticking on a deadline for mine operators to file plans to explain how they will comply. The legislation (SB247), however, contains no firm deadline for mine companies to have additional oxygen supplies and other new rescue equipment installed.Still, West Virginia mine safety officials say they will work to ensure that operators comply as quickly as possible.“An operator is going to have to show us that they have [rescue equipment] or that it’s on order,” said Doug Conaway, director of West Virginia’s Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training. “If they can’t get them, they are going to have to show us that they have ordered them and that they are trying to get them.”The rules approved by Ireland are intended to implement the mine rescue bill that Gov. Joe Manchin pushed through the Legislature after the Sago Mine disaster and the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine fire.Twelve miners died and another was critically injured at Sago, making it the worst mining disaster in West Virginia in nearly 40 years. Two miners died in the Aracoma fire.Along with two additional mining fatalities on Feb. 1, West Virginia has recorded 16 mine deaths so far this year. That is more than any entire year since 1995, when 16 also died in the state’s mines.
One rule creates a new mine emergency-response system to provide “rapid response” to mine accidents.The other requires coal companies to provide miners with additional emergency air supplies, communications equipment and tracking devices. Under that rule, each mine operator now has 30 days to submit a “Storage Cache Plan” to spell out how his mine will provide miners with additional emergency oxygen. Each cache must contain enough self-contained self-rescuers, or SCSRs, to give each miner at least 16 additional devices.In mines with coal seams taller than four feet, caches would be required every 2,500 feet in each working section. In smaller mines, caches would be required every 1,250 feet, according to the rule.Also, within 30 days, the mine safety office must notify operators of what kinds of wireless communications and tracking devices will be allowed in state mines. Within 30 days of that notification, mine operators must give the state a schedule of when they will comply with the requirements.The additional oxygen and other equipment are ideas that have been pushed for years by some mine safety advocates. Over the years, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has ignored these ideas or rejected them.Last week, under mounting congressional pressure, MSHA announced that it would implement its own emergency rules to require additional oxygen supplies in underground mines.MSHA has not released details of those rules, or published a copy of them in the Federal Register.