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Frictional Ignitions In Underground Bituminous Coal Operations 1983-2005
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    Frictional ignitions are defined as the ignition of a flammable mixture of methane and air that is initiated by frictional heating. Ignitions created through the addition of energy from open flames and exposed electrical circuits are not included in this analysis. Energy released in a roof fall that creates a spark and ignites a methane mixture would be considered a frictional ignition. Frictional ignitions represent the majority of all ignitions in underground coal mines. Over the study period of 1983 to 2005, a total of 1993 ignitions were reported in underground bituminous coal mines in the United States, of which 1589 were frictional ignitions. Reportable ignitions to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) are any unintentional occurrences of flame underground regardless of duration. Frictional ignitions were reported in 155 mines and 13 states. Continuous miners represented the largest source for frictional ignitions with 1090 (68.6% of all frictional ignitions). Longwall mining operations represented the highest concentration of frictional ignitions during this study period with 1365 frictional ignitions (85.9% of all frictional ignitions). The 17 mines with the most frictional ignitions were all longwall mining operations and had 1130 frictional ignitions (307 from the shearer) that represented 71.1% of the total. In 1983, mines with frictional ignitions represented 6.9% of operating underground mines and 36.6% of total underground coal production. The percentage of operating underground mines with frictional ignitions and their total production has increased steadily and in 2005 represented 9.8% of active mines and 46.2% of underground coal production. The three coalbeds with the highest number of frictional ignitions (Blue Creek, Pittsburgh No 8, and Pocahontas No 3) had 1049 ignitions that represented 66.0% of all frictional ignitions. The three states with the highest number of frictional ignitions were Alabama (710), Virginia (247), and Pennsylvania (242) that represented 75.5% of the total. Frictional ignitions peaked in 1991 with a high of 114. In 2005, only 34 frictional ignitions were reported. If only frictional ignitions that occur at the face are considered, there have been no fatalities since 1983. Since this time, there were 33 ignitions that caused 53 workers to lose a total of 2912 working days. When including ground falls, then there have been four frictional ignitions with one incident causing two fatalities and injuring eight workers. From 1983-1991, underground productivity and the number of frictional ignitions increased. However, productivity continued to increase from 1991-2000 while total frictional ignitions fell, thereby disproving this connection between productivity and frequency of frictional ignitions. Ninety percent of all frictional ignitions occurred in underground coal mines that liberated more than 393 L/s (1.2 MMcfd million cubic feet per day) of methane through the main ventilation system. Although methane production is not the determining factor for the occurrence of frictional ignitions, it is a good indicator of the anticipated frequency.

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