Hearings on Crandall Canyon Mine Begin: Part Vii; Public Comments
The Utah Mine Safety Commission continues to hear public comments in their meetings as well as presentations by professionals in the area of mining.
At the recent Price meeting a number of local people spoke before the commission. Jerry Carlson is the owner of Price Mine Service. His company trains miners for placement in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado. They have five offices. They are the largest independent mine placement service. Carlson is a founding member of the Southeastern Utah Energy Producers Association. This organization brings coal mining, oil and gas, copper and other energy producers together to discuss the industry and problem solve.
This year their annual banquet will be on Nov. 8 and Rep. Jim Matheson will be the speaker. This organization took the initial steps toward what is now the Western Energy Training Center. They believed in career based training and helped in the recruitment process for Bob Topping, Steve Burge and Sam Quigley who now operate the center.
Carlson said the CEU-WETC merger has been a struggle and it's not finished yet. The legislature was unclear how to make the merger. Dr. Topping has worked to formulate some long term views for the center.
Carlson said his company works on compliance training in a three state area. As a company they train people themselves. They have safety specialists who travel a big area training miners. He said since the Crandall Canyon mine disaster there has been a decrease in the number of people wanting to get into coal mining. "Dr. Topping has a vision to rejuvenate interest in coal mining. The legislature has done a wonderful job. But, to create a world class facility, it needs money. The center has been awarded a couple of grants, but when you look out three-four years, compliance training is a small part of what's needed. We need industry involved and WETC involved. Zero accidents need to be a reality. Bret Harvey said, 'Our goal is not to improve, but to get down to zero.' WETC has the right vision and it includes the whole arena, gas and mining," said Carlson.
Scott Matheson, commission chairman, commended Carlson for being involved with the formation of WETC from the beginning. There is much concern for developing the next generation of miners and other energy producers.
Carlson mentioned the WETC sponsored group which took teachers on a tour of energy facilities to give them a better idea of the energy industry. "It was enlightening for them and these types of things will help. We have been a guarded industry. We haven't shown who and what we are. Mining is safe in comparison to other industries. Our recruitment has dropped by half since the Crandall disaster. The energy industry needs help. More time and money needs to be spent on training and innovation," said Carlson.
Carlson said his company trains miners and offers supervision at the mine site. The new miner will work with a crew for two-three months out-by before being hired by the company. The operators have found these miners are better trained. Carlson doesn't think just compliance training is enough.
The commission asked Carlson if language is a barrier in training and understanding. He said 30 percent of the miners across the west are Hispanic and the language and culture can be a barrier.
Carlson said the larger coal operators all have their own safety training and safety departments in-house. They have done things without help and now all of a sudden there is help and interest. WETC will be the driving force. Cost is a factor. "We have to fund this thing, it's not going to drive itself. Safety is important. WETC brings guys together. People want a career path. The workforce is already there; people in the industry now would like to get additional training," said Carlson.
Mayor Joe Piccolo wondered if there is enough collaboration between federal and state. Carlson said the state hasn't put any money into training but has renewed interest since the mine disaster.
John Palacios retired miner and consultant addressed the Utah Mine Safety Commission. He said safety is important. He believes the long wall sections are too long and need to be shortened. He thinks the bleeders should be reinforced. If bleeders need to be used as an escape route they are often filled with timbers and other supplies. Palacios was on the mine rescue team at the Wilberg fire. Palacios said all companies should get together for safety and research. More research is needed into knowing what to do when mining under 3,000 feet of cover. He also thinks face bosses need more training. "Face bosses should be brought up to date on mine plans each week. They need much better training. District managers from MSHA should be trained so they understand Western mines. Also hydrocarbons in the Bookcliff mine areas are dangerous; there needs to be research done to see what can be done," said Palacios.
Steve Burge, Carbon County commissioner said he is proud of the heritage of coal in the area. It takes incredible intelligence to make it possible for lights and electricity. He cautioned we not lose sight of those who have lost their lives and find a way to honor them. He told of the emergency response plans and how they fell into place with the disaster. He said it might be good for the commission to look at the first responders. What is the relationship with MSHA and how to deal with the media. He also said the language barriers need to be addressed and how to deal with families in emergency situations. Decisions are sometimes made on an hourly basis. Burge complimented the law enforcement in Emery County and how well they handled the mine disaster.
In November a group is coming to WETC which involves seven community colleges and industry. Burge envisions the creation of a standardized program for training which will transfer across state lines and create a one stop approach to training. Different states are funded differently for training.
Matheson wondered if WETC could play a role to strengthen mine rescue systems. Presenters answered yes, WETC can get into more in depth safety training for mine rescue teams. There is a certified safety program for Colorado which was created by a former Carbon County man. It was agreed it's wise to create safety professionals. There are incredible instructors at WETC and CEU and with support from the legislature these programs can be started. Matheson said the commission would like to hear recommendations and thoughts for getting these programs started and or expanded.
Colleen Byrge spoke to the mine commission, she said she has been around mining men for 60 years. Three of her grandchildren lost their dad in the Crandall Canyon mine disaster, he was Brandon Kimber one of the rescuers. Her husband, Chuck Byrge is on oxygen after spending 40 years underground, he was also a survivor in a potash accident. Two of her sons today work in the coal mines and she prays for their safety. She said Washington is mad now and things are going to get done for mine safety. She believes the governor put some good people on the mine commission. "With our experience and everything, we went through, I don't know what could have been done better. Mayor Hilary Gordon, with what she went through, she should be woman of the year. God had a reason he built the earth on coal. Research should be done on ways to make coal cleaner so we can use coal to meet our needs" said Byrge.
Matheson expressed the sorrow of the commission for their loss.
Don Shey spoke to the commission. He said miners are among the finest people he has known. His father was a UMWA attorney years ago. He said he has been disgusted with how things are handled at the federal level. He thinks they try to hide behind their regulations. He said he watched as the people affected by Hurricane Katrina didn't have food. He thinks the mine operators are well represented, but who is representing the miners? He said he doesn't know where they get the courage to go into the mines every day.
Pete Hackford and Debbie King work for the state labor commission. King does the mining certification in the Price Office. Hackford said he believes WETC is a good idea. For the past year Hackford said he has been involved in updating the certifications. They are dedicated to make Utah a safe place to work.
Matheson said other states go beyond the minimum requirements for training. Should Utah be one of those states and what implications would that have for the labor commission and their program. Hackford said they would need to restructure their exams. Utah has issues other states don't with its deep mining and methane hydrocarbons.
Sen. Dmitrich wondered about the testing after the training and the cost. Hackford said it is $50 for the initial test and the worker must pass all five sections, if they fail any section they must take it again.
Litvin wondered how the testing of Hispanic workers is done. King said she does the testing for the Price office and most of those taking the test knew English and didn't need an interpreter.
Matheson wondered how the development and strengthening of curriculum would take place if the state ends up requiring more training than the initial MSHA training. Hackford said he could see WETC and the labor commission interacting together to be on the same page for testing and education. Information is put together for a study guide. The labor commission would be glad to help out with testing at WETC.
Sen. Dmitrich wondered about a neutral body doing the testing. He said it would require legislation to add to the number of hours training required. Dmitrich said testing by a neutral body adds credibility.
The mine commission is putting together a technical advisory group to report to the commission at a later date on specific subjects. Future meetings will also include a report on the advances in mine technology and what is available for the tracking of miners.
Part VIII will appear in the Nov. 6 issue of the Emery County Progress.