John Baza is the director of the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining under the Division of Natural Resources for the state of Utah. Baza is the executive secretary of the Utah Mine Safety Commission. He recently was asked to report to the commission.
Baza said the events at Crandall Canyon are a powerful memory for him. "When the tragic events occurred it captured the attention of a worldwide audience. When the second bump hit and killed three more miners and six were injured. I was greatly saddened. For the families, it is ongoing," said Baza.
Baza explained DOGM and their role in mining. DOGM is one of the seven divisions for the Division of Natural Resources. Mike Styler, director of the DNR is part of Gov. Jon Huntsman's cabinet. DOGM has four responsibilities which include oil and gas, coal, minerals and abandoned mines. Baza said their division is well acquainted with all the coal mine operators in the region including Murray Energy. DOGM serves a regulatory role and not a safety role.
Baza recalled on Aug. 6 he was in a departmental meeting when he learned of the disaster at Crandall Canyon. He began receiving phone calls and emails wanting him to comment. At that time they had limited information about what was going on. They responded to all questions in a general manner. They at that time had indirect communications from UtahAmerican Energy. They also didn't have a contact with the Mine, Safety and Health Administration. At the time of the disaster, the governor was in Idaho attending a meeting. He immediately traveled to the mine site when he learned of the trapped miners.
The next day, Baza said the DNR was called to an emergency meeting to assist and support the miners. This meeting was to assess the services that Utah could offer. Baza was requested to travel to the mine site with Kevin Strickland, from the Department of Labor and Richard Stickler, assistant director of MSHA. They met with the governor and his staff at the command post. Baza offered logistical support at the mine site and attended the press and family briefings.
He stayed around the clock from Thursday through Sunday afterwhich he traded off with others. They offered assistance to the families and the department of public safety.
Baza said on Aug. 24 the governor established the Utah Mine Safety Commission. Baza offered some personal impressions of how things were handled. He said MSHA very seriously addressed their role to the families and the press. They always talked to the families first before meeting with the press. They spent a lot of time with families answering questions. "MSHA and the mine operator did everything they could. Seismic events are not predictable. The mine operator did not hesitate to use all that was available. The families were obviously distraught at the loss of their loved ones. They did everything to address these needs. Emotional needs are the hardest to deal with.
"The state's role was not clearly defined. The governor wanted more information and communication with state government than what occurred," said Baza.
Defining the state's role was the governor's main objective in beginning the mine commission. The mine accident is still under investigation by MSHA. MSHA's findings will have a bearing on the mine commission's recommendations.
"Crandall Canyon is a watershed historic event. I will never forget the time I spent in Huntington. I feel sorrow at the loss of life," said Baza.
Scott Matheson, commission chairman said he has a better sense of the state's involvement from hearing the testimonies that day. There was a rapid response at the time of the disaster. No clear road map was in place for the state's role. A better blueprint is needed for communication. There isn't a set of procedures. They just deal with the situation as it comes up.
Baza said they have a good working relationship with the mine operators. The mine operators effectively meet their requirements outlined by DOGM for their permitting. DOGM doesn't deal with mine safety. Baza said he is working with his staff on creating hypothetical situations they might have to respond to and how they would do that.
Baza said they don't have a relationship with MSHA and they need to work on developing a relationship.
The Utah Mine Commission's next meeting is Dec. 11 at the State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City.