Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Award-Winning Coal Mine Idled by CO Problem

Two large underground coal mines are struggling with safety-related problems that are causing lengthy shutdowns.

Arch Coal's West Elk Mine in Colorado, which produced some 6.5 m tons last year, shut down October 31 after a rise in carbon monoxide that indicated heating somewhere in an area with a number of worked-out longwall panels. The company has just announced that the mine will stay idle for at least another 6 weeks.

Ironically, MSHA had days before honored the mine with special notice for its 5-year safety record. The good news is that the mine's emergency planning worked: the automated monitoring system detected the problem and no one has been seriously injured in the incident or its aftermath.

Another major producer, CONSOL's Buchanan Mine #1, idle since mid-September due to a problem with the production hoist, may not be back in production until mid-December, AP reports. "The brake system was unable to hold the loaded skip, which went back down the shaft resulting in damage to the head frame structure, structure in the shaft, ropes, and the hoisting building. There were no injuries as a result of this, " the company told MSHA.

But also "the auxiliary mini cage located at the production shaft was removed from service due to damage..."

The Buchanan mine produced almost 4.4 m tons last year and reported 422 employees this year, according to MSHA data.

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