MSHAs photo of the rescue capsule used at the Quecreek No. 1 Mine to save nine miners in July 2002

Commission Weighing $110,000 in Quecreek Penalties

This capsule's use in the rescue of nine Pennsylvania miners trapped by an inundation in July 2002 captivated the nation. Their rescue would never have been needed if two companies penalized in these two cases had insisted on accurate maps, an administrative law judge ruled.

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission is scheduled to hear oral arguments today in two combined cases stemming from one of the biggest mine safety stories of this decade -- the July 2002 rescue of all nine miners from the Quecreek No. 1 Mine after they were trapped by an inundation from an adjoining, abandoned mine. FMSHRC also has scheduled a July 1 meeting to rule on the two cases, in which PBS Coals, Inc. and Musser Engineering, Inc. were fined the maximum $55,000 civil penalty each by FMSHRC Chief Administrative Law Judge Robert J. Lesnick in a Nov. 3, 2008, decision.

Lesnick ruled that PBS Coals and Musser "acted in a grossly negligent manner" because they relied on a Consolidation Coal Co. (Consol) map of the adjacent Harrison No. 2 Mine that was not dated, marked final, or certified by a professional engineer or surveyor, according to the decision. The companies should have marked the adjacent area of Quecreek No.1 with a warning or dotted line on the mine's map that was required by MSHA, but no such warning or marking was made; PBS provided maps to Black Wolf Coal Company Inc., the production operator of Quecreek No. 1, that showed the incorrect boundary of Harrison No. 2 as delineated on the Consol map, the decision states.

Lesnick ruled that PBS Coals and Musser violated 30 CFR 75.1200, which requires coal mine operators to maintain "an accurate and up-to-date map," stored in a fireproof repository at the surface of mine, that shows adjacent mine workings within 1,000 feet, mines above or below, and water pools above.

Seventy-two million gallons of water rushed into Quecreek No. 1 on July 24, 2002, trapping the nine miners as nine other miners escaped to the surface. MSHA's page about the inundation and rescue, including the photograph of the rescue capsule used, is available here. The secretary of Labor initially proposed a $5,000 penalty against each company, but asked for $55,000 instead in a reply brief. Lesnick held that the violations were significant and substantial and chose the maximum $55,000 for each company.

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