UtahAmerican Energy, Inc. and its subsidiary, Andalex Resources, Inc., a co-owner of the West Ridge Mine with Intermountain Power Agency, announced the company will argue its case for the mining plan it believes best ensures miners' safety before an administrative law judge hearing on Feb. 20. The company and the Mine Safety Health Administration (MSHA) have been at odds for weeks over numerous mining plan issues related to deep cover mining. The company and its experts believe MSHA's recommended mining practice would not only compromise miners' well-being, but will result in continued, more unpredictable bounces throughout the mine.
Additionally, the company believes a statement released on Feb. 18 by MSHA is regrettable in that it implies only it has the miners' best interests at heart. Moreover, MSHA inaccurately reported that the West Ridge mining complex does not currently utilize barriers when in fact it does.
UEI continues to rely upon its engineers and geotechnical specialists, who have deep cover mining experience, which MSHA's specialists lack. Also, contrary to recent reports, bounces at the West Ridge mine have not become greater in size and frequency. The current mining plan has proven to isolate bounces to only one area of the longwall face creating more predictability, manageability and safety.
The company previously attempted panel barrier mining, the method insisted upon by MSHA, at the now closed Tower mining complex. As result of this mining practice, the complex experienced bounces that tended to be less predictable. According to company officials, MSHA inspectors appear to believe they can "stop" bounces at West Ridge with similar practices used to "stop" bounces in a mine in Virginia. The company and its experts, however, understand that eastern mining conditions are nowhere near comparable to deep cover western mining.
"Per the assessment of extensive internal studies, management and workforce, and consultation of world renowned geotechnical specialists, the company has concluded the current mine plan is safe and suitable for miners," said Kevin Anderson, an attorney for the company. "Stopping at the current location and pulling the longwall out in deep cover conditions - where large chunks of coal are more likely to fall from the roof because we're required to sit idle - would add substantial risk for injury or worse. Instead of basing their suggested mining methodology on proven studies or relevant experience, MSHA has decided to roll the dice without making a thorough evaluation."
In terms of safety, the company has implemented state of the art safety measures, including remote mining in the most bounce-prone areas. The plan has exceeded all expectations. It has the added benefit of serving as an extremely educational, productive experience for UEI and MSHA. Furthermore, the company knows of no other coal mine in North America operating a remote longwall or utilizing the extensive safety features now in place at West Ridge.
According to Anderson, "MSHA's most recent claim stating that West Ridge has 'no barrier pillars in place' is completely false. As displayed in the mining plan, a significant barrier is located between the panel being currently mined and the next panel the company would like to mine. As evident by MSHA's mischaracterizations, this opens up questions about department's true motives regarding West Ridge and beyond."