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Front Page » October 16, 2007 » Local News » Hearings on Crandall Canyon Mine Begin: Part V, Utah Mine...
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Hearings on Crandall Canyon Mine Begin: Part V, Utah Mine Safety Commission Meets in Huntington Continued

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Brad Timothy, coal miner speaks before the Utah Mine Safety Commission in Huntington.

Carl Pollastro from Interwest Mining Company reported before the Utah Mine Commission in Huntington. He is the director of technical services and project development. He said he has a 30 year history with mining in the area, beginning with American Coal, Emery Mining and Utah Power.

Emery County has benefited greatly from mining. He said Rocky Mountain Power operates Hunter, Huntington and the Carbon plants in Emery and Carbon counties. They also operate plants in Washington and Wyoming. The coal mine at Bridger is both a surface and underground mine that continues to supply coal to the Bridger coal fired units. "As a coal operator we have a real commitment to ensure a safe environment to our employees," said Pollastro.

Pollastro said he hoped to present from an industry voice what they think would be beneficial. "No one has greater commitment than the operators and employees to safety. I am a third generation miner." Pollastro referred to the Wilberg mine tragedy. He said that invention and change are often born out of tragedy. He said sometimes in these situations we are prone to reactive reasoning and a feeling that we have to do something. Broad sweeping reforms are not as great as if thought through. Things are not the same for all companies. Proactive measures show success.

Pollastro said mining is a small unique industry and one that the general public is not well educated about and a misunderstood industry. The mining industry is highly technical business. "Mining is a mature industry which dates back to the turn of the century. There are gaps in the industry and there is an aging workforce. Many are ready to retire and the middle portion, there aren't many there. Mining is a viable good occupation. Miners are needed on all levels," said Pollastro.

Pollastro referred to mining as a highly regulated industry and more regulated than most. He said tremendous strides have been made in accident reduction. Pollastro showed a map which outlined the different areas that Energy West has mined over the last 30 years. He showed the commission how that compared to blocks in Salt Lake.

Pollastro said they are now mining the Mill Fork lease.

The federal regulations adopted are very complete and thorough. Pollastro said some refinement is needed, but it provides the standards. Principles and standards can be addressed by site specific plans. Each mine has its own personality. Most of the differences in mines lies win the geologic settings. There are geological warnings. You must understand the procedures. Mother Nature gives certain perimeters. You cannot upset that balance of Mother Nature. Seismic activity can't be eliminated. Gravity affects everything, but mine plans can effectively minimize dangers. Gas monitoring should be a constant for mines.

Pollastro sees the advantage the mine commission could have. A technical committee can be formed that will give advice to the mine commission. Nobody is more interested than the mine operators. An ongoing advisory committee to help educate the commission will be a benefit.

The Western Energy Training Center is a great resource to put curriculum together to benefit miners. This training will help raise up a new generation of miners. We need to look at what it takes to get someone interested in mining to develop the entry level miners. New people also need to become certified and supervisors can work to become highly trained.

Special training on emergency procedures should be utilized, these safety teams should go to other mine sites to conduct training so they are familiar with all the mines in an area. This special team could be centered out of the WETC and be highly specialized. This WETC can further the development of current and future professionals. "No one has all the answers, but we can learn from each other," said Pollastro.

It all comes down to funding. Pollastro said with a tragedy, regulations come, but the regulations often precede the technology to deal with it. Not enough research and developmental funds are available. There definitely needs to be a mechanism in place for technological research to move along the whole industry. Other countries like Australia have more training and are more technologically advanced. Pollastro said Energy West pledges to support the commission and will provide the commission with any information they have that could benefit the commission.

Commission chairman, Scott Matheson said the formation of a technical advisory group will help fulfill the governor's charge for the commission. Nominations for such a committee will be accepted.

After each speaker at the mine commission meeting the members of the commission asked questions or made statements regarding the presentations or other ideas.

Dennis O'Dell agreed that other countries are using new technology that isn't here in our country yet. One of the things he doesn't think is fair is the way the regulatory system is set up. When an accident occurs such as Crandall Canyon, the investigation is being conducted by the agency that approved the mine plan with assistance from the coal operator. The parties with the most at stake are involved. A better system would be for an unbiased investigation of accidents. Answers are needed to the questions of what went wrong.

Price mayor, Joe Piccolo observed that Deer Creek and Crandall Canyons mines adjoin each other and did Pollastro have any concerns and do they feel they have adequate knowledge to mine coal that deep.

Pollastro said he has 30 years mining experience and doesn't have all the answers but mining is an evolutionary process and it needs to start with the miners and their concerns about conditions and it needs to filter up from the workers to the management. Mine design should be a joint venture.

Pollastro was asked about the Wyoming state committee. He said they help with certification and testing and is comprised of mostly industry people. They deal with trona and coal mining. Their inspections don't compare with MSHA inspections they are overview and oversight mainly.

Matheson wondered if it would be beneficial to look at the role of the state in mining by finding out what other states do. Pollastro believes that would by helpful to look and see what benefit it might have. One area would be to look and see what other states have for instructors for training and see what needs to be included here for a collaborative effort. Wyoming doesn't have enforcement capabilities and is advisory only.

Emery County Commissioners speak before the Utah Mine Safety Commission. Commissioner Jeff Horrocks at the podium with Commissioner Gary Kofford, at left and Commissioner Drew Sitterud, center.

The mine commission opened the meeting up to take public comments with the hope of hearing from some local miners. Matheson said they want to hear what people think the state can do to make things better. Comments can also be emailed to the commission.

The Emery County commissioners were the first to speak in the public comment session. Jeff Horrocks said he believes the intent of the mine commission is to assure tragedy won't happen again. Mining is a main industry in Emery County and needs to be maintained. He hopes any decisions the mine commission makes will have a positive outcome in the communities.

Gary Kofford said he has been to several meetings lately where the industry folks say there is going to be a real evident energy shortage by 2012. The demand for power continues to grow. Contrary to what the environmentalists would have you believe, 92 percent of the power will be generated from fossil fuels for the next 30 years. Bearing in mind that coal in the state of Utah is diminishing, several coal mines are in their last days. As mines close, somewhere we need to get the energy to keep the lights going. There is nobody out there who wants to develop a coal mine. One company who wants to start a coal mine on the Tavaputs started the process in 1997 to get the permit. They developed a mine plan along with the OSM, DOGM and the BLM. The environmentalists put a hold on the project, when the permit was issued in 2001 it was protested by SUWA. When the second permit was issued, it was protested again. You have a coal company who has the reserves and wants to spend the money. Time is running short. We have plenty of regulations and each plays a vital role. As a commissioner we must look to the future. It upsets me when I see politics and the environmentalists interfering. We have to have the process to allow private industry to flow. With gas wells it's hard to get the lines for transportation. Federal regulations for coal mining are good. But, sometimes the regulations are there without the technology to comply. Don't interfere, let us do our job and our job is to keep the lights on," said Kofford.

Commissioner Drew Sitterud was happy the commission is going to hear from coal miners. They need to be heard. Sitterud cautioned against more regulations that would be hard to live with. Be careful what you do. This is an emotional issue and we need to use our heads to help miners.

Sen. Jake Garn said the commission has no legal authority to do anything and he's pleased that is the case. It is their job to listen to everyone and gather information to make recommendations to make mines safer, not to mandate or push. They hope to learn things that will help local people as well as miners across the country.

O'Dell said he doesn't believe coal mines have made as many strides in safety as they have in production and it's time to catch up.

Mayor Piccolo said mining is very safe, but people need to be educated, the public perception is that mining is unsafe, which is not true.

Commissioner Kofford said he is not against safety and he believes US-6 kills more people than any mine. An educated workforce is important. With WETC in place safety and training can be brought to the forefront.

Commissioner Sitterud said in contacts he had during the disaster the reporters wanted to make coal the enemy and were attacking the use of coal to further their green agendas. They just don't want any more coal fire power plants and used the disaster as a tool for their benefit in denouncing coal as an energy source.

Brad Timothy spoke next he said he has been a coal miner for 33 years and laws are in place to take care of mine safety. He is a member of a mine safety team. Timothy questioned the involvement of the press in the Crandall Canyon disaster. It looks like they just wanted a story and the politicians just wanted a vote.

Timothy believes bonuses should not be tied to production, but to safety. Bonuses take lives and it's not right. He said the hourly workers need to be brought in to give input to the mine commission. In his mine he said the belts can be stopped at any time to address safety issues, but in some mines it might not be that way.

Joe Fielder said he has 33 years of mining experience at Sunnyside, Trail Mountain and as a long wall coordinator at Genwal. He said he honors the men at Crandall who were involved in the rescue efforts as well as the support agencies. "I am one of many miners who were involved in the rescue. MSHA, Utah American and Murray Energy exhausted every resource until the underground effort was abandoned. Safety was the first priority in the decision to halt the underground rescue effort and it was not feasible to continue, there was no support that could have allowed that rescue effort to continue. All experts available consulted at Crandall and no one anticipated the second event. No one in this area had seen anything of this force and magnitude. This event was an anomaly that could not have been predicted, it was not the result of poor training or poor mine procedures. Miners take great pride in working safely. We may never know the cause, to absolutely know is not possible, but we can learn and prevent it from happening in the future. There has been mining since the turn of the century. Technology has come a long way. Coal mining is dynamic and we must adapt to changing conditions. It is fast paced. Safety has increased. Those who died at Crandall Canyon will not be in vain. We will be involved in the best science and come up with better ways. But proceed with caution. It is premature to place blame and it is not productive, the investigation will take time and politics needs to be replaced with a united effort. Forming this commission was an excellent idea," said Fielder.

Ben Staley, miner, said he started in 1980 and has worked at Consol and mines in Colorado as well as Wilberg, mines are all different. He said the coal miner is the best asset in a coal mine. If they notice a roof bolt isn't anchoring into anything, they need to fill out a report and get the information to the safety director. The rock and coal doesn't care, sooner or later it will fall.

Matheson wondered how well MSHAs hot line number works, Staley said he thought it was mostly effective, and how important it is to go through the necessary steps. Something is needed to fill in the gaps between MSHA and the company. MSHA likes it when an hourly worker can go with them on inspections to point things out.

Miner Warren Oviatt said miners take pride in their work and environment, coal mining isn't suitable for some people. Some miners chose not to get involved, but miners should be encouraged to bring up any concerns they have. Coal mining teaches marketable skills including mechanical skills.

Clifford Snow, miner said nobody wants an accident to happen because then everyone loses. He thinks training is the answer and safety checks by the fire boss two hours before the other miners get there. College courses to prepare the miners before they go into the mine are crucial.

Derk Jones, miner, said they feel safe in the coal mine and it's important to talk to the miners doing the actual mining to get their opinions. "They are at the forefront of the battle and they know what's going on," said Jones.

The commission discussed topics for future meetings. The next meeting was in Price and the following meeting will be in Salt Lake.

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