After being fined more than $420,000 by the Mining Safety and Health Administration last week, UtahAmerican Energy Inc. shut down Carbon County's Tower mine on March 28. A press release from the subsidiary of Murray Energy Corporation, cited geological changes and unforeseen MSHA requirements as their reasons for closing one of the deepest coal mines in the United States.
"This closure is the result of recently encountered, unexpected and unusual stress conditions and other unforeseen geological and mining conditions, which are especially a concern to UtahAmerican management for the location that the longwall is about to enter," detailed Director of UtahAmerican, P. Bruce Hill in a Friday press release. "Unforeseen changes in requirements by MSHA have also contributed to the forced closure of the mine."
According to Hill, most of the Tower Mine employees will be transferred to UtahAmerican's West Ridge Mine, which is being expanded.
"All UtahAmerican employees will be offered jobs at other Murray Energy mines," said Hill.
Information released by MSHA on March 20 specifies the fines leveled against UtahAmerican for two "flagrant violations," but does not speak of any recent changes in their requirements. MSHA's material still refers to Tower as the Aberdeen mine formerly of Andalex Resources.
"The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration has assessed $420,300 in fines against Andalex Resources Inc. for violations relating to potential fire and explosion hazards at the Aberdeen Mine," stated the release. "Two citations issued Oct. 26, 2006 and June 20, 2007 were assessed as flagrant violations under the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act based on the operator's repeated violation of the same safety standard. Robert E. Murray controls Andalex Resources Inc., which operates the mine."
Richard E. Stickler who represented MSHA during the tragedy and subsequent rescue and investigation effort at Crandall Canyon made further comment within the MSHA release.
"Mine operators that repeatedly violate mine safety standards must be held accountable for their actions," said Stickler.
MSHA inspection records indicate that the mine operator allowed excessive accumulations of hydraulic oil and fine coal particles to cover hoses, electric conduit and tram motors on electric equipment.
"In addition, the mine operator allowed excessive accumulations of potentially explosive float coal dust and other combustible materials to accumulate on a dangerously maintained conveyor belt," stated the March 20 release. "Such accumulations provide substantial fuel to propagate a mine fire."
According to MSHA, these violations were cited during two routine regular safety inspections. Additionally, a flagrant violation is defined as a reckless or repeated failure to make reasonable efforts to eliminate a known violation of a mandatory safety and health standard that substantially and proximately caused or reasonably could have been expected to cause, death or serious bodily injury.
The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act was enacted in 2006 and requires that operators of underground coal mines improve their accident preparedness. A full explanation of the act can be found at www.msha.gov.
Last weeks shut down was not the first time Tower has been closed for safety reasons. During the last week of August, 2007, 178 Castle Valley coal miners were laid off as UtahAmerican attempted to bolster safety at the Tower facility.
Murray detailed the problems at Tower as early as the last phases of the August 2007 rescue effort at Crandall Canyon.
"Due to the depth of the workings at the Tower mine and the unforeseen seismic events at the Crandall Canyon mine, I feel compelled to take further action at the Tower mine to ensure the safety of my miners by having engineering studies done on the longwall," said Murray
Following the studies and modifications, Tower mine was reopened in late January and has been in operation since.
According to the UtahAmerican release, Tower is the deepest operating coal mine in the U.S. and this circumstance makes for increased challenges in ground control.
"With the unanticipated stresses and forthcoming mining, as well as certain new requirements by MSHA, we no longer have the absolute certainty regarding safety of our employees required to keep the mine in operation," Hill stated.
At press time Amy Louviere of MSHA could not be reached for comment. It was however reported in the Salt Lake Tribune in an article entitled "Safety fears shut down Tower mine," that Louviere had stated, "we cannot speculate as to what unforeseen changes UtahAmerican references in its press release."