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Front Page » September 25, 2007 » Local News » Hearings on Crandall Canyon mine begin: Part II
Published 3,442 days ago

Hearings on Crandall Canyon mine begin: Part II

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Mine owner, Robert Murray sits at a press conference at Crandall Canyon mine.

Hearings have begun on the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster. A United States Senate subcommittee for Labor, Health and Human Services and Education held a hearing on mine safety and preventing future disasters.

Sen. Tom Harkin conducted the meeting.

Richard Stickler, MSHA, was also questioned about the press. He said, "I don't know how to handle the press. If you've got any ideas on that. It's unfortunate because things were quoted in the newspapers that were not confirmed or known to be fact. This information got back to the families and was hurtful to them."

Sen. Harkin from Iowa said the main purpose of the hearings in the Senate is to gather information on what to do to prevent similar accidents from happening in the future. He had many questions like? Why aren't mine operators employing the best technology currently available to protect their employees? Is the approval process for retreat mining rigorous enough? Is the inspection process identifying everything it should when pulling pillars 2,000 feet beneath the earth. Congress has given in the 2006 appropriations $25 million to hire more mine inspectors. Sen. Harkin was concerned about what MSHA knew about the bounces which occurred in March at the Crandall Canyon Mine, before it approved the plan to mine in an area 900 feet away.

Sen. Arlen Specter said UtahAmerican Energy purchased the Crandall Canyon mine on Aug. 9, 2006 from Andalex Resources. He had concerns about the violations at the mine and also the previous owner had deemed mining at Crandall Canyon was too dangerous to continue. One matter to look into is whether mine fines are high enough to deter infractions. Sen. Specter said they must look at whether criminal negligence was involved.

The rescue operations must be looked at, what was the quality of the safety precautions with the bounces going on. Mine experts were highly critical of the retreat mining in the southern tunnel.

Sen. Specter said Robert Murray will possibly be subpoenaed to a future hearing to ensure his appearance as he neglected to attend the first hearing, listing health issues for his absence.

Stickler gave an opening statement and then fielded questions. He is a third generation coal miner and worked in the mining industry for 40 years. "I am deeply saddened by the tragedy at the Crandall Canyon mine that occurred on Aug. 6.

"I assure you we will expeditiously act on the findings of the investigation to help prevent similar accidents in the future. MSHA accident investigation team will begin their investigation by meeting with family members and begin their investigation at the mine. An independent review team by the Department of Labor will also review the Crandall Canyon Mine. At approximately 2:50 a.m. on Aug. 6 a mountain bump registering 3.9 on the Richter scale occurred. The force of this bump inside the mine blew out the ventilation walls more than a half a mile from the bump area. "In my 40 years of working in the mine industry I have never seen a catastrophic mountain bump of this magnitude. These events underscore the importance of MSHAs commission to protect the health and safety of this country's miners. One of the most difficult and long standing engineering problems associated with mining is the catastrophic failure of mine structures known as bumps.

"Coal and rock outbursts caused by bumps have presented serious mining problems for decades in metal, non metal mines and coal mines. They have occurred as a result of all types of mining, continuous mining, long wall, room and pillar, room and pillar retreat, mine development and pillar splitting. While ground control experts have determined methods to minimize the result and occurence, they cannot accurately predict when they will occur, nor can they design mining plans where they can guarantee they will not occur.

"The rescue attempt moved very slowly because we required the installation of rib support. Forty ton water jacks, chainlink fence and steel rope cable were installed to protect the rescue workers from further mountain bumps. These safety precautions which were recommended from MSHA experts and outside experts proved to be inadequate to prevent the second bump which killed three rescuers.

"At that point MSHA suspended rescue work within the mine while continuing rescue efforts from the surface. In all seven holes were drilled. In every bore hole, microphone and cameras were lowered, but we could not locate the miners. We informed the families on Aug. 31 we had exhausted all known rescue operations. MSHA has and continues to be responsive to the families. MSHA had interpreters for the Spanish families. I spent several hours each day with the families. Clergy were on site. We will work hard to make sure the family members are communicated with throughout the course of this accident investigation. MSHA works diligently to make sure each miner returns home after each shift. Our goal is to prevent all fatalities," said Stickler.

Sen. Specter questioned Stickler about the letter from Agapito Mining, an engineering firm out of Grand Junction, in a letter dated on April 18, 2007 to Laine Adaire, UtahAmerican Energy, that on March 7, 2007 a bump had occurred which damaged the North panel causing it to be abandoned. But, the mining plan was approved for the South panel, 900 feet from the North panel. Sen. Specter asked Stickler, when he had received this letter from Agapito. Stickler answered after he returned to Washington after spending 17 days in Utah he obtained a copy of that letter.

Sen. Specter said that letter reported a large bump had occurred on March 7 afterwhich the North panel was abandoned. Sen. Specter asked Stickler if he had read this letter. Stickler said after he returned from Utah he obtained a copy of the Agapito report. Sen. Specter said the report was sent to Adair at UtahAmerican Energy and was a copy provided to MSHA?

Sticker said he didn't know if MSHA was provided a copy of the Agapito report at that time.

Sen. Specter wondered if the mining companies are required to submit engineering reports. Stickler said that is not a requirement, but most mining companies do submit the engineering reports with their mine plans for MSHA approval and review.

Sen. Specter said the bump in March closed down that part of the mine and the new plan was to do retreat mining 900 feet to the South. "MSHA approved that plan is that correct?" Stickler said, "That is correct."

Sen. Specter said, "If MSHA approved that plan did they have this letter in their possession before they approved the plan? If you don't know, find out if MSHA inspectors had this letter in their possession at the time they approved the plan."

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