Members of the Pennsylvania Anthracite Council’s Technical Committee and the Independent Miners and Associates (IMA) recently met with senior members of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to discuss the two organization’s comments regarding the Department’s “Repeal, Replace or Modify” initiative.
During the meeting, the PAC argued that the mining industry has been at a disadvantage in dealing with surface and underground regulations since the passage of the 1969 Coal Mine Safety and Health Act. The Act was largely based on Pennsylvania Bituminous regulations and did not take into account the various differences between anthracite and bituminous coal mining geology, hydrology and mining methods.
The meeting included site visits to an anthracite surface mining operation and a drive-by an anthracite refuse reclamation site. During the site visits, PAC technical committee members pointed out the significant hydrological and geological differences between the anthracite and bituminous mining regions.
Specifically, committee members recommended that MSHA adopt a clear definition of the various classifications of coal in its regulations. Further, the PAC also pointed out that anthracite production accounts for about .005 percent of all coal production nationwide and is not a major competitor of bituminous coal. U.S. anthracite producer’s main competition is from international producers from North Korea, Russia, China, South Africa, Vietnam and Peru.
During the meeting, the PAC discussed a number of areas of concern. The topics ranged from methane testing at surface mine operations to a very low hazard of combustion from the accumulation of anthracite dust.
Another key area of discussion was impoundments. The technical committee pointed out there are significant differences in the size and locations between anthracite and bituminous impoundment dams. The argued that “certain cases” anthracite impoundment structures should be exempted by the Department.
For example, in the anthracite region, many ponds created by past (pre-act) mining operations have existed in their current state for decades. Many of those sites are no longer in use and show no signs of failure. The technical committee to agree that even though those impoundments that were constructed prior to 1976 should continue to be inspected by the property owner for damage.
For its part, representatives from the IMA pointed out the significant differences between anthracite and bituminous underground mining methods. The IMA suggested that MSHA adopt Pennsylvania deep mine safety standards in place of enforcing bituminous safety standards on small anthracite deep mines.
In some cases, they argued that Federal bituminous standards actually created a greater hazard for anthracite deep miners.
MSHA officials have agreed to return to the area in early 2019 to tour an anthracite deep mine and to meet again late in the year with surface mine operators in a “Round Table” meeting to discuss the issues raised by surface operators at greater length.