Meeting MINER Act regulations

THERE is no doubt that meeting the new regulations associated with the MINER Act has been and continues to be complex and, in many cases, challenging to both mines and vendors. International Longwall News examines an operator and a supplier which are both working to come into compliance with - and exceed - the new laws.
Meeting MINER Act regulations Meeting MINER Act regulations Meeting MINER Act regulations Meeting MINER Act regulations Meeting MINER Act regulations

Active Control Technology's ActiveMine communications and tracking system.

Donna Schmidt

Massey Energy

One coal operator, Appalachia-based Massey Energy, said its place in the innovation of safety practices was longstanding.

"We are particularly proud of our role in the development of the Nautilus Proximity Device, which shuts down the continuous mining machine when the operator enters the danger zone," said Massey Coal Services vice-president for safety and training Elizabeth Chamberlin.

"Over time, we plan to implement proximity devices on all of our continuous mining machines and to evaluate the usefulness of similar technology on other underground equipment and in surface mining applications."

It has met some challenges with the outlined regulations of the Act, including ambiguity.

"Overlapping implementation timeframes and the lack of a consistent, clear definition on what is required to reach compliance have proven difficult and expensive obstacles for our industry and the regulatory agencies to overcome," Chamberlin said.

Add to that new protocols that are time-intensive, Chamberlin noted.

"Responding to new legislation and regulations has been time consuming, in part, because compliance has required costly technological innovation in many areas, such as seals, shelters, underground wireless communications and tracking," she said.

"Although a key component in the successful implementation of any new process, the additional training and inspection requirements associated with all of these new requirements have been particularly burdensome in terms of time utilisation for our safety professionals."

Mine theft, she said, is the next significant issue Massey is tackling, as it and trespassing onto abandoned property "has grown to crisis proportions" by its estimation.

"The theft of self-contained self-rescuers at our Aracoma mining operation has highlighted for the public the seriousness of this situation and the need for full prosecution under the law and incarceration for these crimes," she said.

Massey is also looking to upgrade, and continually play an active role in testing, technological innovations including wireless communications and tracking.

"Additionally, we are evaluating necessary changes and expansion of our mine rescue capabilities," Chamberlin noted.

Active Control Technologies

Steve Barrett of Active Control Technologies, developer of the ActiveMine system, said it has taken much of the Act's outlines to heart in the development of the system, but that it has also exceeded its requirements in other ways.

Besides operating on a 100% wireless Wi-Fi network backbone, the system supports voice communication as well as video and other applications. It uses open-standards technology, and was designed to meet the harsh environment of an underground mine by being less vulnerable to water and other damage, including rockfalls.

When a worker's location must be known, ActiveMine can provide the point within 35 feet and, in the event of an incident, has a battery backup and power supply that lasts four days and is intrinsically safe.

"ActiveMine is designed specifically to meet MINER Act requirements for wireless systems as established in MSHA policies," said Barrett.

"According to the Administration's Program Policy Letter No. P06-V-10, MSHA interprets the term "wireless" as used in the MINER Act, to mean that no wired component of the system exists underground where it may be damaged by fire or explosion.

"Post-accident communication technology would be considered acceptable if, based on its location in the mine and the history of mine explosions and fires in the mine, it is likely to withstand the event intact."

ACT kept that in mind during development, and as such chose an advanced "mesh network" technology at all times, even after an accident.

As with most suppliers in the industry, ACT has met its own obstacles in meeting the Act.

"Probably the biggest challenge was identifying, securing and integrating the very best technologies for use in ActiveMine, not only to meet MINER Act requirements but also to meet the business and operational needs of our customers," Barrett said.

Technologically, bringing the components of the system to a point where all can withstand the underground environment was a challenge that ACT met head-on. The product now is not only robust but reliable, he said.

"A separate set of challenges has been introducing a new product to customers and regulators," Barrett said.

"We have worked hard to show that ActiveMine is a superior mine communications, data and tracking system, and is a considerable improvement over legacy systems like leaky feeder and RFID gates."

ACT filed documentation for the final portion of the ActiveMine system earlier this month with the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

State approval for West Virginia, where it was also given the green light for commercial sale, was received earlier this year.