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Mining Contract: Best Practice Review of Atmospheric Monitoring Practices for Fire and Explosion Prevention Using Tube Bundle Systems

Contract DetailValue
Contract #200-2013-56949
Start Date9/23/2013
Research Concept

The detection of explosive atmospheres in underground coal mines is critical to the safe operation of a mine and to the successful operation of rescue efforts. Tube bundle technology has been successfully employed overseas for use in day-to-day operations and reportedly has been used to inform rescue efforts following a catastrophic event. Regulators have recently expressed an interest in requiring tube bundle systems in all US mines for use following a catastrophic event; however, concerns exist regarding the survivability of these systems and implementation issues for some regions of the US with extreme climate conditions. Therefore, additional analyses are necessary to determine the adequacy of this technology for both day-to-day use and use following a catastrophic event given conditions in all US coal mines.

Program Areas

Contract Status & Impact

This contract is ongoing.

The mining industry in Australia has one of the best safety records in the world. A key contributor to that safety record for underground coal mining is a comprehensive regime of monitoring and continuous evaluation of the mine-wide underground environment. This regime ensures early sensing of unanticipated hazardous conditions such as the liberation of explosive methane gas concentrations or indicators of fire, and provides for the timely implementation of interventions to avert potentially serious accidents or major disaster. This ability to sense hazardous conditions early is a critical factor in ensuring a safe working environment in an underground coal mine. Additionally, the potential to use an atmospheric monitoring system to inform rescue efforts following a catastrophic event is of significant interest to the US mining industry.

A cornerstone of the mine monitoring regime used in Australia is the tube bundle gas monitoring system. Tube bundle systems draw gas samples continuously from multiple designated sampling locations in the underground coal mine to gas analyzers located on the surface through purpose-built plastic tubing using vacuum pumps. Designated sampling locations cover every area of the mine including gas drainage and gobs. These systems are the result of more than 20 years of ongoing development following recommendations from boards of inquiry into disasters at underground coal mines in Australia and subsequent changes to mining legislation. However, as of 2014, only a small number of tube bundle systems are in use in the United States. Notwithstanding, tube bundles represent a readily available commercial technology that has significant potential to improve safety in US mines and rescue efforts following a catastrophic event.

Research performed under this contract will include a study of the operational aspects of this technology and those issues that need to be considered in deploying tube bundle monitoring systems for use. The analysis will be based on real-world practical experiences with the technology in other mining jurisdictions. Site visits will be conducted to a range of Australian mines currently operating tube bundle systems to examine the risk assessments, fault tree analyses, and resultant principal hazard management plans developed and implemented by Australian mines and the effectiveness thereof. This will result in a profile of the risks that application of the technology must address and how operational requirements and practices are applied.

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