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Better tracking systems sought




WASHINGTON

House-passed legislation orders a government study into the technology needed to overcome the circumstances of miners being trapped far underground without the ability to communicate with would-be rescuers.

The bill, approved by voice vote Monday, commissions the National Institute of Standards and Technology to research, develop

and demonstrate next-generation miner tracking and communications systems and to promote

the creation of standards regarding underground communications to protect miners.

Last August six miners were trapped 1,800 feet below the surface of the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah. It was never learned if they survived the initial cave-in and their bodies have yet to be recovered. Three others were killed as rescuers tried to tunnel toward the trapped miners.

“To not know where their loved ones were was probably the greatest frustration of all,” said Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, who sponsored the bill and whose district includes the Crandall Canyon mine.

He said many watching the tragedy asked, “how is it, as the rescuers try to rescue these six trapped men, that we can’t know exactly where these men are?” The reality, he said, is that the technology doesn’t exist today.

Communicating with miners working in deep coal mines is technically difficult because coal absorbs radio waves. Less than 10 percent of the radio spectrum that is used above ground can be used undergound, and only about 1 percent of that radio spectrum is allocated for commercial communications purposes.

Development of that technology could improve safety at the 1,400 mines nationwide as well as mines around the world.

Last year, after the Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia that killed 12, Congress passed and the president signed a mining safety act that required mine operators to put more oxygen supplies underground and move rescue teams closer to mines.

The bill on communications now goes to the Senate for consideration.


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