Carbon monoxide scare closes Elk Creek Mine temporarily
Written by Seth Mensing   
Wednesday, 16 January 2013
“Safety is our number one concern”

The Elk Creek Mine in Somerset was temporarily closed on Tuesday, January 8 after a Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) inspector found high levels of carbon monoxide (CO) on the grounds, prompting an evacuation of workers and a complete shut-down of mining operations.


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Elk Creek Mine president Jim Cooper explains that the coal in the North Fork Valley oxidizes relatively quickly, and that can manifest itself in elevated levels of CO at the surface. Oxidization also releases heat, which in some cases can result in combustion, and an underground coal fire.
“We do have indications that somewhere in that mine we’re oxidizing coal at a rate nobody’s comfortable with. But nobody thinks there’s an open flame. That’s not what MSHA’s saying at all right now,” Cooper says. “We’ve got a program together that we’ve got to get done.”
That program started Tuesday, January 15 after MSHA inspectors approved a proposal to eventually seal seven points throughout the mine in order to contain the harmful CO gas, isolating two-thirds of the mine.
First, a mine employee will work his way through the miles of mine shafts block by block, setting up monitoring points underground to allow inspectors to track CO levels from the surface, then work back out sealing points in the mine strategically as he goes.
Cooper says the first phase of the operation will probably take three days, followed by as many as seven days of waiting while the atmosphere in the mine stabilizes. Once that happens, the first round of temporary seals can be replaced with more permanent ones.
“We’ve had three MSHA people on this property constantly since [the elevated CO reading] and their charge is to enforce the Mine Act, which is all about protecting miners. And that’s consistent with this company’s view too. Safety is our number one priority. We’ll always err on the side of caution,” Cooper says. “But we’re trying to get this thing opened back up and get people back to work as quickly as we can.”
Understanding that reopening just one-third of the mine workings will mean a reduced work force, Cooper says he’s hoping to find a way to keep all of the mine’s 350 miners working, with reduced hours.
“We may work out some way that it’s all of our people [working],” he says. “If it’s a third of the mine, then it’s less than it was before for sure. But I just don’t know right now.”