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Main: Local Mines Innovating

June 14, 2012
By J.W. JOHNSON JR. - Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

MOUNDSVILLE - While companies and mines across the country work to adhere to regulations and laws set by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, one local company is attempting to become an innovator in the industry.

According to Joseph Main, assistant secretary of labor for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, Consol Energy is in the process of finishing what is being called "breakthrough technology," sending wireless signals from an underground mine through the earth to allow for better communication. MSHA regulations require companies to have some sort of communication in place, a mandate that came about after the Sago Mine accident in Upshur County, W.Va., in 2006. However, Main said Consol has taken that charge a step further.

"They are really helping push this technology that we have all wanted for many years," he said. "They've cracked that egg."

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Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph Main says a renewed focus on safety and response has improved conditions in America’s coal mines.

Main said on a recent visit to Consol's Robinson Run Mine in Mannington, W.Va., he was able to stand on the surface and receive a call from 850 feet below, a feat which he shared with members of the federal government in recent meetings.

Consol also has been a leader in proximity detection, which Main said has helped miners be more cautious while underground. He said the technology works in a similar fashion to that of an automatic door, which recognizes an individual when they are within a certain number of feet from the sensor.

"What has been developed is that as you walk closer to a piece of equipment, like a continuous miner, it beeps to warn you and eventually shuts down if you get closer to prevent it from crushing you," he said.

Consol is using the technology in its Bailey Mine in Pennsylvania and, along with Peabody Energy in Missouri, is an innovator of the technology, Main said. He said the technology has helped decrease the number of deaths caused by an individual being crushed, which has occurred 70 times since 1984.

Overall, Main said mines in the Northern Panhandle and Ohio Valley are routinely safe and tend to pay attention to regulations and follow them as best as they can. He said mines like those he recently saw in Kentucky, which had no ventilation controls in their underground operations, are not seen in the local area.

"Our main goals are training miners well, putting plans in place for potential safety concerns and fixing conditions that are not up to standard," he said. "Mines there generally follow those guidelines."

Rob Murray, vice president of Business Development and External Affairs for Murray Energy and its operations in Belmont and Monroe counties, said his company is also ahead of the game when it comes to mine safety.

"We have had these devices in place - in many cases, even before such devices were required by law," he said.

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