WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Parts of Sago mine, where 12 men perished in a January explosion, will reopen next week and be ready for coal production, the Mine Safety and Health Administration said Friday.
The federal agency said it had completed its on-site investigation and was reviewing information and samples from the January 2 blast in the West Virginia mine. The government team will announce their conclusions May 2, alongside investigators from the state.
A section that had been shut down before the blast and was probably where the explosion started will remain closed, MSHA's lead investigator Richard Gates said in a conference call with reporters.
Gates also said the seals placed on decommissioned parts of the mine would be examined, after rescuers said they appeared to have been blown away as though the explosion happened behind them. The 40-inch-thick seals were installed about three weeks before the explosion.
Gates said investigators were confident that the "source of the event" was near the seals. They are also examining the mine for methane, the gas some believe sparked the explosion, he said.
Ray McKinney, administrator for coal mine safety and health for the agency, said that the mine's owner, International Coal Group, was working to improve situations that were reported as dangerous before the mine reopens.
In 2005 the agency issued 208 safety penalties to the mine, which produces about 800,000 tons of coal annually.
The investigation has included more than 40 interviews and investigators will be testing more than 300 rock samples, Gates said.
Since the accident, numerous hearings have been held in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. West Virginia's state legislature passed mining reform laws days after the accident that are designed primarily to help rescuers reach confined miners quickly.
The Sago miners were trapped underground for more than 40 hours and were finally found behind a plastic curtain at the end of a tunnel. Although they had no communication with the outside and no tracking devices, they left notes for their families that show they survived for many hours after the initial blast.
MSHA has also issued emergency standards, similar to the West Virginia legislation, to be applied nationally. It also convened a safety training day after the Sago accident and a fire in the Alma mine, owned by Massey Energy Co's Aracoma coal unit that killed two more miners in January.
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