Water pumped into mine to put out 3-day fire

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Consol Energy said it has identified the general location of an underground fire in its Blacksville No. 2 deep mine near Wayne, Greene County, that has been burning for three days and has idled 650 coal miners.

Consol is drilling boreholes from the surface into the mine and pumping water underground in an attempt to contain and extinguish the fire, which was discovered at 2 p.m. Tuesday when smoke was detected coming out of the mine's Omdoff shaft.

All 121 miners working the day shift were immediately evacuated through the mine's Kuhntown portal in Greene County. The company said there were no injuries.

According to the Cecil-headquartered mining company, more than 800,000 gallons of water had been pumped into the mine by 4 p.m. Thursday via the Omdoff shaft, which serves primarily as a ventilation shaft and is located in Monongalia County, W.Va.

The Blacksville No. 2 Mine, which Consol has operated since 1993, has a large footprint of 17,563 acres in the Pittsburgh coal seam 900 to 1,000 feet under the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border. It's main entrance is in West Virginia.

PG graphic: Blacksville No. 2
(Click image for larger version)

Lynn Seay, a Consol spokeswoman, said the company, working with federal and state mining agencies, has implemented a strategy to pump water into the mine while closely monitoring carbon monoxide and methane levels.

Consol said it finished drilling one borehole, about 1,000 feet deep, into the mine Thursday afternoon and lowered a camera into the mine that "detected light smoke but no fire." The company will begin pumping water into the mine through that borehole today and plans to drill as many as four more boreholes into the mine near the Omdoff shaft to "increase the volume of water that we can pump into the mine."

All work shifts at the mine have been canceled since the fire was detected Tuesday, and the company said it's unknown when mining will resume.

The shutdown order was issued by two federal Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors, who happened to be on a routine mine inspection when the fire was detected. MSHA said rescue teams that were sent into the mine to locate the fire were also forced to the surface.

According to MSHA, Consol started drilling a second borehole Thursday afternoon. Water is being trucked to the first borehole and dumped into the mine but the company is laying a water line from a pond near the Orndoff shaft to the first borehole.

Amy Louviere, an MSHA spokeswoman, said the cause of the fire has not been determined.

"The priority right now is to extinguish the fire and then do an investigation into what caused it," Ms. Louviere said, adding that determinations about violations, if any, would be part of that investigation.

On March 3, federal mine inspectors at Blacksville No. 2 issued a citation to Consol for a violation of regulations involving "escapeway maps." On March 6, MSHA inspectors found the Blacksville not meeting a federal regulation requiring the company to "minimize hazards with respect to transportation of men and materials."

Under normal conditions, Blacksville No. 2 mines approximately 400,000 tons of coal per month for electric power generation.

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Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.


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