North / South America
Right place at right time for MSHA
Jun, 04 2012
MSHA's coal administrator tells MetroNews the agency was "lucky" that its inspectors were at an Alpha Natural Resource's coal mine in Wyoming County recently when a belt fire occurred.
"If this was on an off-shift and we weren't there I'm not sure what would have happened at Road Fork," MSHA Coal Administrator Kevin Stricklin said.
The belt fire took place May 18 at Alpha's Road Fork 51 mine, but the underground workers were not initially evacuated by the company. MSHA's inspectors stepped in and ordered the miners out.
"You would have hoped they would have removed the people from the mine that 's in-by for sure," Stricklin said. "And then investigate to find out what the cause of the smoke was and then do a testing of their system to find out what went wrong."
After the incident Stricklin ordered a safety blitz of 43 other Alpha operations. He says he wanted to make sure there weren't similar problems. Stricklin says dozens of citations and orders were issued but nothing as serious as what was found at Road Fork.
Stricklin says that was "comforting."
Alpha has yet to respond to what MSHA found at its other operations. It initially told its investors about the belt fire but didn't make a big deal out of it.
Stricklin says he doesn't really make anything of Alpha's public response or lack thereof.
"That's up to them, however they want to do it, but my response was to make sure we didn't have another Road Fork there," he said.
Stricklin says Alpha should have evacuated its workers immediately and then tried to find out what went wrong.
"Number 1, why would the belt have burned through in this case? And why did the things in place that should have detected it, the CO system or the slippage sequence switch, not operate correctly?"
Stricklin says the 2006 disaster at Aracoma Coal's Alpha No. 1 mine in Logan County where two miners were killed in a belt fire was in the back of his mind when he heard about what had happened at Road Fork 51.
"It could have turned into another Aracoma if the conditions were as bad as they were at Aracoma," he said.
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