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Front Page » January 29, 2008 » Local News » Hearings on Crandall Canyon Mine Part Xix, Mine Commissio...
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Hearings on Crandall Canyon Mine Part Xix, Mine Commission Makes Recommendations to Gov. Huntsman

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The Utah State Mine Commission has been working on several recommendations to put before Gov. Huntsman. Below is a continuation of these recommendations.

Recommendation: The Mine Safety Technical Advisory Council should evaluate the seismic monitoring system and work with the University of Utah Seismology Stations and the coal operators to determine whether investment should be made to achieve a high resolution seismic monitoring capability at individual mines involving both in-mine and surface instruments. Professor Walter Arabasz reports this type of intensive seismic monitoring in coal mines is uncommon in the United States but has been pursued aggressively in Australia, Canada, China, Eastern Europe and South Africa. The commission recommends a thorough assessment of safety benefits, feasibility, costs and public and private financing options.

Recommendation: The state should organize and sponsor a technical symposium on the causes of mountain bumps in coal mining areas and best practices to improve safety. The symposium may become an annual event to address safety issues specific to Utah and the West. The commission recommends this symposium take place in late spring or early summer at an appropriate Utah location. The planning committee would consist of representatives from the Mine Safety Technical Advisory Council. The focus of the symposium should be on improving mine safety consistent with a strong coal mining economy in Utah. In addition to presentations on the Crandall Canyon tragedy, topics could include: improved safety training focusing on recognition of conditions contributing to bumps; methods currently in use to reduce likelihood of damaging bumps; summaries and lessons learned from past events; strengths and limitations in pillar design procedures and mine layout practices; remaining Utah coal resources and probable future coal mining conditions; opportunities for industry, MSHA, NIOSH, BLM, and academia to work together on research designed to improve safety and productivity in Utah coal mines (development of theory, laboratory investigation, and field verification and the present and possible roles of government agencies in assuring safety in bump-prone coal mines.

Funding for the symposium could come from sponsors, federal sources, registration fees, and modest state support.

Recommendation: The state should provide increased and stable funding for mining engineering education. This support is needed for faculty resources, curricula offerings, and the recruitment and retention of students. A logical source of this support would be to include mining engineering as an essential component of the statewide Engineering Initiative. The commission has received significant evidence of a serious ongoing and accelerating shortage of mining engineers who are critical to the safety and well being of coal production in Utah. The University of Utah Department of Mining Engineering has seen a decline in student enrollment in spite of high coal industry demand for its graduates. According to Professor McCarter, Chair of the Department of Mining engineering, the 12 accredited mining engineering programs in the United States produce about 130 graduates each year, but the annual need for mining engineers is 300 per year nationwide. About one-fourth of all positions in mining engineering will become vacant in the next two years. In response to similar conditions in other engineering fields, the legislature over several years has approved funds to hire faculty and improve facilities to facilitate program improvements and student enrollment. However, this funding has not been used in any substantial way to improve mining engineering education. The Department of Mining Engineering needs to expand its faculty to a recommended level of six full-time professors to educate the engineers who will be needed on the technical staffs of Utah mines. The Department also needs to offer adequate student financial aid to recruit the students who will be needed for these positions. Inclusion of mining engineering in the Engineering Initiative would assist in achieving this goal.

Recommendation: The state should support a public education campaign focused on Utah public schools to provide information about careers in mining and natural resources.

Recommendation: The Western Energy Training Center should be the focal point for delivery of a comprehensive, state supported training curriculum to foster miner safety and accident prevention in Utah's coal mines and to facilitate emergency rescue and response to coal mine accidents. The training program should be designed to address safety issues under Utah mining conditions, including improved training on the threat from coal mine bumps.

Recommendation: The state should support WETC's training efforts to prepare coal mining personnel to conduct safe operations and to enable the industry to recruit and retain qualified coal mine workers. The commission received testimony from multiple sources about the looming shortage of mining personnel in Utah and the nation. The National Mining Association estimates that 50,000 new miners will be needed over the next five to seven years as demand rises and aging workers retire. WETC should receive support to offer basic skills training through qualified instructors and a rigorous curriculum offered through classroom sessions and simulate mining environments for new mine workers and for continuing education and training for experienced miners. WETC should be encouraged to work with various workforce transition programs such as Job Corps as a promising pathway for new miners to enter the Utah workforce. Once operational, the regional seismic monitoring network could provide valuable laboratory experience for students in instrumentation and data collection.

Recommendation: The state should seek federal administrative and/or legislative flexibility for WETC and the Utah Labor Commission to design training and certification programs that are tailored to the safety needs of Utah miners and not unduly constrained by MSHA requirements. CEU and WETC officials explained at commission hearings that they are dedicated to formulating training programs that are focused on the safety needs of miners working in Utah mines. They also indicated that MSHA training requirements imposed unnecessary constraints on the development and implementation of optimal safety training curricula. Accordingly, the commission urges state officials to work through the Utah congressional delegation and with other states to achieve the flexibility in MSHA regulations and if necessary in federal legislation to enable development of the best safety program for Utah miners.

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