The Potential of Seismic Technology

January will mark the six year anniversary of the Sago mine explosion that tragically claimed the lives of 12 West Virginia miners. But Keith Heasley, a professor of mining engineering in West Virginia University's College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, is working on a technology to ensure such an event never happens again.

Heasley recently received a $110,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop seismic locators that consist of geophones laid out in a grid on the surface and connected to a computer that processes the sounds they pick up.

In 2006, such technology might have found the Sago miners as they pounded on mine bolts and plates with a sledgehammer to signal their location.

"The seismic systems available at the time, we could hear people pounding at like 400 feet deep, but when we did a test at 850 feet deep, we couldn't hear them," he said — a distance well short of the depth of many underground mines. Background noise drowned out the signal. "There wasn't a system out there that was totally sufficient."

The CDC's grant will allow Heasley and his team to continue testing at greater depths."One will certainly be at a deep mine, 2,000 feet," Heasley said.

If the tests succeed, systems could quickly be made available. This is a fantastic approach to using the great breadth of benefits that microseismic technology has to offer. Whether it's making sure that fracing happens nowhere near the aquifer or determining where mineral rights fall underneath the earth's surface, the advances being made on a daily basis to seismic technology are astounding. Not just for miners, but for all of us.