The Crandall Canyon Mine, where six miners were trapped Monday after a collapse, has a history of safety or health citations.
Since early 2005, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has cited the Crandall Canyon Mine 176 times for alleged safety or health standard violations. Many of these were deemed "significant and substantial" problems.
For a violation to be considered significant and substantial, according to MSHA rules, mine inspectors must believe that "based upon the particular facts surrounding the violation, there exists a reasonable likelihood that the hazard contributed to will result in an injury or illness of a reasonably serious nature."
MSHA issued 33 citations against the mine this year, plus three orders. Of the citations, a dozen were labeled significant and substantial. These citations included a build-up of grease and dust that was combustible, and inadequate warning devices and escape ways.
Orders considered significant and substantial were issued regarding the dust accumulation and the availability of mine rescue teams. The mine was cited for not having at least two mine rescue teams available at all times when miners are underground.
The rescue-team order was issued on Feb. 1, and subsequent inspections did not indicate anything lacking in that regard, so presumably the citation was not justified or any problem in this area was corrected.
Since January 2004, the Crandall Canyon Mine has paid nearly $130,000 in MSHA-assessed fines. Nearly $4,000 in additional penalties have not been settled, and proposed penalties have not been assessed for 40 citations.
Some citations result in no penalties, while the highest since January 2004 was a $6,300 penalty paid in June 2004 resulting from an order concerning examining, testing and maintaining electrical equipment.
Another assessment for $6,300, resulting from a citation issued in February 2004, was marked "delinquent" in MSHA records. The regulation involves keeping a primary escapeway clear of certain equipment.
Walter Licht, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has researched mine accidents, said citations can be assessed because of minor or more serious concerns.
"One of the mine inspectors can be in a mine and see a wrench lying on the ground that somebody can trip on, so they get a citation," he said. But the significant citations are to be taken seriously, he said.
Attempting to put the citations into perspective, he said that other coal mines with disasters in recent years had in the neighborhood of 180 to 210 citations, compared with the 33 this year for Crandall Canyon Mine. In addition, he said, half of the violations at the other mines were serious, while fewer than half were in that category in the Utah mine.
Licht said the number of citations at the Crandall Canyon Mine was not unusually high. "This is maybe par for the course," he said.
Concerning the rubble that rescuers have been trying to remove, he said that seems to indicate a cave-in happened.
"When you have cave-ins, they usually are the result of some kind of explosion or some kind of fire," he said. If there was no earthquake or explosion, Licht added, "it's hard to understand why the buttressing system should give way."
The mine's permit area covers 5,000 acres, with a combination of private land and federal and state leases, according to the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining. The mine is entirely within the Manti-La Sal National Forest, and its surface operations take place on 10 acres.
Mining began there in 1939 and continued until September 1955, when it stopped. Production resumed in 1983 by Genwal Coal Co., with production from 100,000 tons to 230,000 tons a year, the state division noted. In 1991, mining began on state land within the mine.
And in 1997, a mining machine was purchased that was intended to increase production from 2.5 million tons to 3.5 million tons yearly.
Genwal Resources made $45 million in annual sales, according to the business-tracking Web site Hoovers.com. Genwal Resource's parent company, UtahAmerican Energy Inc., is owned by Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp., which is the fourth or fifth largest mining company in America, said Murray Energy President Robert E. Murray. The Genwal complex is the smallest operation, with about 71 employees.Workers at the Crandall Canyon Mine are not unionized.
Contributing: Ben Winslow E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org