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Petition - Docket No. M-2000-155-C

In the matter of

Mountain Coal Company, L.L.C. West Elk Mine

I.D. No. 05-03672

Docket No. M-2000-155-C 30 CFR 75.352

 

PROPOSED DECISION AND ORDER

 

On October 31, 2000, a petition was filed seeking a modification of the application of 30 CFR 75.352 to Petitioner's West Elk Mine, located in Somerset, Gunnison County, Colorado. The Petitioner proposes to

conduct longwall development mining using the two-entry system. A petition was not filed seeking modification of 75.350 to conduct longwall retreat mining using the two-entry system.

 

Petitioner is currently operating under a modification of 75.350, granted on August 8, 1996 (docket No. M- 1993-108-C) which allows air coursed through belt entries to be used to ventilate working faces. The existing

modification does not address conveyor belts for longwall mining using the two-entry system nor does it modify

75.352 which requires conveyor belt entries to be separated from return air courses.

 

The petitioner alleges that application of 75.352 will result in a diminution of safety to the miners. Further, it contends that the alternative method proposed in the petition will at all times guarantee no less than the same measure of protections afforded by the standard.

 

On January 17, 2001, MSHA personnel conducted an investigation of the petition and filed a report of their findings and recommendations with the Administrator for Coal Mine Safety and Health. As part of the investigation, the Roof control Division of MSHA's Pittsburgh Safety and Health Technology center conducted an evaluation of the ground control aspects at the West Elk Mine and submitted a report of its findings. After a careful review of the entire record, including the petition, MSHA's District 9 investigation report and recommendation and the Technical Support report, the preamble to the Secretary's ventilation rule, and expert reports concerning the ventilation of belt entries, this Proposed Decision and Order is issued.

 

Findings of Fact and Conclusion of Law

 

The mandatory safety standard, 30 CFR 75.352 requires that entries used as return air courses be separated from belt haulage entries by permanent ventilation controls. Utilization of a two-entry mining system necessitates the use of the belt haulage entries as the return air course during the longwall panel development.

 

Inthe preamble to section 75.352 of the Secretary's 1992 final ventilation rules, the Secretary stated:

 

Allowing return air to pass over a moving belt conveyor, particularly in mines where methane liberation is high, can increase the likelihood of an explosion caused by a spark along the conveyor.

 

57 FR 20893. Inthe preamble, the Secretary also cited to her Belt Entry Ventilation Review (BEVR) of 1989. The review committee which authored that report, consisting of numerous experts in mine ventilation, concluded as follows:

 

There are [ ] valid reasons for separating return aircourses from belt haulage entries. Return air leaving a production face usually is contaminated with float dust, respirable dust, and methane. These contaminants are properly directed to return entries where activity is limited and ignition sources are not present. Accordingly, the

review committee finds no reason to relax the requirement for separating belt haulage entries from return aircourses unless there are other compelling safety considerations.

 

Ibid; BEVR Rep. at 14-15. Similarly, the Final Report of the Advisory Committee on the Use of Belt Air (Advisory Committee Report, November 18, 1992), recognized that any Abenefits@ oflocating the belt in a return entry Amay be offset by the additional hazards and concerns that may be introduced in such an arrangement.@ Belt Air Rep. at 71, 82. Thus, the specific safety goal of Section 75.352 is to prevent the introduction of a potentially combustible atmosphere in the return (which may contain gases and dusts from the working areas of the mine) on to the belt, which contains multiple potential points of ignition.

 

The petitioner alleges that the use of two-entry longwall development mining systems reduces the likelihood of coal bumps, roof falls and other hazards related to mining under deep cover or highly stressed ground

conditions. Italso asserts that developing with additional entries to comply with isolation of the belt entry from a separate return entry, and diverting belt air directly into the return air course diminishes the safety of miners when compared to using the belt entry as a return air course during development mining, as long as appropriate atmospheric monitoring, early warning fire detection and other precautions are utilized.

 

The investigation report found that the petitioner had not provided any compelling safety considerations that would warrant the use of the belt entry as a return air course. While it stated that the two-entry mining system would provide maximum protection during longwall panel development and retreat mining under adverse roof conditions, multiple seam mining and deep cover, no documentation or history was presented to demonstrate unstable roof and rib conditions. Infact, the investigative report indicated that there had been one reportable roof fall in the development sections of the east side of the mine in the two years preceding the investigation.

Although Mountain Coal stated that some small bounces have been observed at cover depths greater than 100 feet, there is no documentation of bounce history available. The Petitioner also stated that two consultants have suggested that a two-entry mining system be considered for roof control. However, no engineering studies or computer models evaluating a two-entry mining system or other evidence were submitted to support this assertion. Similarly, MSHA's Technical support Roof Control Division did not recommend that West Elk Mine be permitted to use a two-entry mining system based on the evidence at the time of its evaluation. It found that two-entry gate configuration in overburden less than 1400 feet did not appear to offer the only remedy for coping with adverse ground conditions. Further, the Technical Support report found that the West Elk Mine had not experienced any bump activity and indicated that bump activity was not anticipated. For these reasons, MSHA concludes that the Petitioner has not demonstrated that compliance with the requirement to separate the belt haulage entries from the return aircourses as required by Section 75.352 will diminish the safety of miners at the mine.

 

Petitioner also claims that its alternative method provides the same degree of safety as would application of the safety standard. Insuch cases, the pertinent inquiry is two-fold. First, the modification must promote the specific safety goals of the original standard - here, protection from fires and explosions in the belt entry - with roughly comparable success. Second, the modification must result in overall net mine safety at least equivalent to that provided by Section 75.352, taking into account both advantages and disadvantages of the alternative method, including effects unrelated to the goals of the original standard, i.e., how the modification will effect overall

mine safety. The evidence in this case meets neither part of the test.

 

The Advisory Committee Report noted that any benefits of putting the belt in a return could be offset by additional hazards such an arrangement could introduce. In this regard it is important to recognize that 75.352 was designed to prevent the introduction of a potentially combustible atmosphere in the return (which may contain gases and dusts from the working face) in the belt haulage entry which contains numerous possible points of ignitions.

 

Given these concerns, the petitioner's proposed alternative method for ventilating the belt with return air must be evaluated to determine whether it provides the same protection against ignitions in the belt entry as 75.352's requirement that the belt entry be physically separated from the return. While MSHA encourages the use of sophisticated carbon monoxide and methane monitoring systems and other measures proposed by Petitioner's

alternative method, the inherent daoger of introducing return air into the belt entry cannot be overcome by the measures proposed in this case.

 

Moreover, the overall impact of the modification would be a reduction of safety. Granting of the proposed modification would result in a two-entry mining system that could affect all underground personnel. Such a system would reduce the number of potential exit routes from the working section in the event of a life­ threatening occurrence, such as a fire or methane explosion, from three entries to two. As the investigation report indicates, West Elk is a gassy mine which for the time period of October 1 through December 31, 2000 liberated 11.2 million cfd. In addition, hydrocarbons have been observed in the mine on January 28, 2000.

Finally, although the inherent benefits of a sophisticated carbon monoxide and methane monitoring system were

acknowledged in MSHA's BEVR Report, it nonetheless concluded that the daoger in fighting a potential fire in the belt haulage entry is "magnified * * * with air moving outby." BEVR Re. At er. Insuch a case, fire fighting

crews would have to work inby the fire. Ifthe fire were to burn through into the intake, escape would be cut off. Waterlines that are installed in the belt entry would be exposed to the fire outby the area where water is needed. Heat from the fire could melt or otherwise damage the waterline necessitating the installation of a separate waterline around the fire. The delay in water availability for fire fighting could reduce the possibility of extinguishing the fire quickly and prolong the fire fighters= exposure to the hazards of a fire. Since the proposed alternative method achieves neither the specific safety goal of the standard nor promotes other safety benefits associated with the standard, it must be rejected. Therefore, on the basis of the petition and a review of the entire record, Mountain Coal Company, L.L.C., is not granted a modification of the application of 30 CFR 75.352 to

its West Elk Mine.

 

ORDER

 

Wherefore, pursuant to the authority delegated by the Secretary of Labor to the Administrator for Coal Mine Safety and Health, and pursuant to Section lOl(c) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, 30 U.S.C., sec. 811(c), it is ordered that Mountain Coal Company, L.L.C.'s Petition for Modification of the application of 30 CFR 75.352 in the West Elk Mine is hereby:

DENIED.

 

Any party to this action desiring a hearing on this matter must file in accordance with 30 CFR 44.14, within 30 days. The request for hearing must be filed with the Administrator for Coal Mine Safety and Health, 1100 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia 22209-3939.

 

Ifa hearing is requested, the request shall contain a concise summary of position on the issues of fact or law desired to be raised by the party requesting the hearing, including specific objections to the proposed decision. A party other than Petitioner who has requested a hearing shall also comment upon all issues of fact or law presented in the petition, and any party to this action requesting a hearing may indicate a desired hearing site. If no request for a hearing is filed within 30 days after service thereof, the Decision and Order will become final and must be posted by the operator on the mine bulletin board at the mine.

 

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John F. Langton Acting Deputy Administrator

for Coal Mine Safety and Health