This week marks the tenth anniversary of the Quecreek mine rescue, where nine Somerset County miners were pulled out of the ground alive, after being trapped underground in a flooded chamber for 72 hours.
As Essential Public Radio reports, the disaster led to an overhaul of Pennsylvania’s mine safety laws. State regulators note Pennsylvania has not experienced an underground miner fatality in three years.
Shortly after the accident then Governor Mark Schweiker created a commission on mine safety, which led to some changes. Mining operators getting within 500 feet of another mine had to demonstrate it was safe to continue work. A central mine map repository was established, and stricter permitting procedures were adopted.
Those changes then led in 2009 to an overhaul of the commonwealth’s Mine Safety Act, the first major change of the law since 1961.
“[The new act] memorialized a lot of the changes we made after Quecreek, and also, up until that point, the only way the law could be changed was through the legislature,” Sbaffoni said. “The Mine Safety Act created a Mine Safety Board, so we now have the ability to promulgate rules and regulations to deal with situations,” and not wait for the state House and Senate.
The board, which includes three representatives apiece from the mining industry and the United Mine Workers, has the authority to put in place regulations that keep pace with changing mine safety technology and to act quickly to implement necessary improvements and precautionary measures.