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Three year delay possible on new coal mine methane rule

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Members of a coal safety board set a date to take a crack at publishing a rule on a coal mine safety rule, but it could be years before it is implemented.

The rule is regarding the concentration of methane in coal mines, a part of the coal mine safety bill put forward last year by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. The bill calls for equipment to shut down when concentrations of 1.25 percent are reached for a "sustained" period of time. Current federal law requires a shut down at levels more than two percent.

Methane is considered an explosive threat in the range of 5 to 15 percent concentration in the atmosphere.

The proposed rule to come before the board on March 26 will leave open the definition of "sustained period" and will give manufacturers up to three years to comply with the law. Implementation timetables and definition of a sustained period of time has been the points of major disagreement among board members, comprised half of labor representatives and half industry representatives.

The bill originally called for the rules to be written and proposed by October of last year.  

One reason for the delay is that calling for a shut-down at precisely 1.25 percent is not possible on current equipment. Most methane monitors only measure to one decimal place, meaning that all equipment would have to be developed, approved by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration and distributed to state mines.

The Upper Big Branch mine explosion, which killed 29 coal miners in Raleigh County, was caused by a methane explosion that later led to a larger coal dust explosion.

Chris Hamilton, an industry representative to the board, said he was in favor of starting the process to get manufacturers moving forward on coming up with designs and producing the new methane monitors. Administrator of the board Joel Watts said he would put together the proposed rule to be considered by the board in March.