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The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006, also known as the MINER Act, was signed by President George W. Bush on June 15, 2006. This legislation was called by MHSA “the most significant mine safety legislation in 30 years, amends the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 and contains a number of provisions to improve safety and health in America's mines.”

While the MINER Act is significant mine safety legislation, it failed to consider the role played in recent mining disasters by inaccurate paper maps.  This situation represents a complete disconnect between the new legislation and a major factor leading to recent mining related disasters.

Role of inaccurate paper maps in recent mining disasters

The information that follows was compiled to demonstrate the irrefutable cause-and-effect relationship between dependency on inaccurate mapping and limited survey control in recent national mining disasters.  In some instances inaccurate mapping was a direct cause of an emergency.  On other occasions it was a significant impediment to rescue operations.  Survey control could likewise be characterized as both cause of an incident and as impeding rescue operations.

Martin County, Kentucky slurry impoundment failure

On Oct. 11, 2000 the nation's largest coal slurry spill occurred at the Martin County Coal Company in Inez, Kentucky. The EPA called the Inez spill the worst environmental catastrophe in the history of the Eastern United States. Far more extensive in damage than the widely known 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska, the Martin County Coal slurry spill dumped an estimated 306 million gallons of toxic sludge down 100 miles of waterways.  The MHSA report issued October 17, 2001 points to inaccurate mapping as the principal cause of this environmental disaster.

“The investigation of the spill shows that the protective barrier between an underground mine and the Martin County coal-waste impoundment was far thinner than regulators thought. Map information Martin County Coal Co. gave the state in seeking a permit to expand the impoundment showed a barrier of about 70 feet (21 m) between the bottom of the impoundment and the mine. However, … the barrier was apparently less than 10 feet (3 m) thick.”

Quecreek Pennsylvania mining accident

During the emergency the primary mechanism for working with maps was paper (Figure 1 below).  In our digital information age, dependence on paper maps that have no way to be easily tested against other mapping information to check for inaccuracies impedes the rescue effort and could cause unnecessary fatalities.  

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