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Federal regulators say Consol can reopen fire-stricken mine

| Thursday, May 16, 2013, 4:24 p.m.

Consol Energy Inc. will reopen its Blacksville No. 2 Mine on the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border on Monday, but federal investigators doubt they'll learn what caused a fire there, officials said Thursday.

Cecil-based Consol began safety and compliance training at the mine in order to reopen, the company said in a statement. The mine produces 400,000 tons of coal a month under normal operations. It was closed when workers discovered the fire on March 12.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration gave permission to reopen Blacksville when test results showed seals around the fire-damaged area had stabilized, said Kevin Stricklin, administrator for coal mine safety and health.

The company had to act quickly to seal off and then extinguish the fire, but that seal will prevent investigators from exploring that site for evidence of what caused the blaze, he said.

“We may never know the reason for the fire and how it started. It is important to know, but it's not important enough to send people into an area that's sealed,” Stricklin said, adding that the agency finds a cause for nearly all mine fires it investigates. “Consol gets a lot of credit. It's their mine and they made a lot of right decisions.”

When the mine reopens, federal workers will resume regular inspections and conclude their fire investigation by talking to more employees to determine what can be learned from the incident, Stricklin said.

Consol will keep nitrogen on hand and watch to ensure explosive gas doesn't build up behind the seal, he said.

Extinguishing the fire cost Consol $15.2 million, company officials said when they announced a $1.6 million loss for the first quarter of the year.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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