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Mapping abandoned mines essential for miner safety

The nine coal miners trapped in a Pennsylvania mine last week got into trouble because of an inaccurate map of an old, adjacent mine. The men thought they were mining 300 feet from the old mine, but instead they broke through a wall and as much as 60 million gallons of water came rushing in. Federal and state agencies in charge of mine safety need to do something about this before another disaster happens.

It's a problem not only in Western Pennsylvania, but in all coal states, including West Virginia.

It wasn't until passage of the Mine Act in 1969 -- a bill spurred in large part by the disaster in Farmington -- that mines were mapped more accurately. Prior to that time, the maps were done in a rather hit-and-miss manner.

In this age of high-tech gadgets, we would think that going back and mapping the old mines more accurately would be a much simpler task than in years past.

Here in West Virginia, some work is already being done. In March, Exponent Telegram Regional Editor Nora Edinger talked with Paul Ziemkiewicz of the National Mine Land Reclamation Center at West Virginia University. He said the center is mapping all mine cavities in the North Central West Virginia watersheds. In addition, they'll be monitoring the water levels in those abandoned mines to predict pending catastrophes.

Getting more reliable maps of old mines is essential in protecting our miners and the general public. The feds should move on this and start a program to provide uniform, accurate maps of all old mines in the coal belt.

James Logue

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