CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A state board decided Wednesday to ask lawmakers to rewrite a key portion of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's mine safety bill, after concluding a mandated change in methane monitoring requirements was not feasible.
The state Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety instead proposed to adopt federal regulations on methane monitoring, but with a tougher standard than what is enforced by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Board members asked after repeated delays that left them about 10 months behind schedule to write a rule for tightening the state's requirement for mining equipment to be automatically shut off when the explosive gas methane is detected underground.
"The board, after nearly a year of deliberations, could not come up with a way to implement the legislative mandate," board administrator Joel Watts explained after the board's decision at a meeting in Charleston.
The methane requirements are part of legislation supported by the governor, lawmakers, industry and labor. The legislation was billed as a response to the disaster at the former Massey Energy Upper Big Branch Mine. On April 5, 2010, a small methane ignition at Upper Big Branch grew into a huge coal-dust-fueled explosion. Twenty-nine miners died, making it the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in nearly 40 years.
Generally, coal operators are required to monitor underground mines for methane, which can explode when it is present in an amount between 5 percent and 15 percent of the air.
Under federal rules, methane monitors are designed to automatically shut down underground mining equipment if the explosive gas is detected at concentrations of 2 percent or greater. The idea is that shutting down mining equipment removes a potential source of a spark that could ignite methane and cause a catastrophic explosion.
Initially, under legislation introduced last year by Democratic House of Delegates leaders, coal-cutting devices on mining equipment would be required to shut down automatically when methane concentrations reached 1.25 percent.