Crandall Mine owners, MSHA condemned

Published: Friday, July 25 2008 12:00 a.m. MDT

Richard Stickler, right, talks to Robert Jensen (son of Gary Jensen, killed in Crandall mine) after briefing the family on official findings.

Michael Brandy, Deseret News

PRICE — In a long-awaited report released Thursday, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration proposed a record fine against operators of the Crandall Canyon Mine and detailed 10 violations directly related to the August 2007 collapses that entombed six men and killed three others trying to rescue them.

But a separate report, also released Thursday, blasted MSHA itself for what it called multiple failures of the agency during the Crandall Canyon plan approval process, inspection activities and rescue attempt.

That report, prepared for Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, said MSHA "failed to fully meet its responsibility by approving the roof control plans for mining the north and south barriers" within the mine.

"MSHA's failure to adequately evaluate the roof control plans contributed to the occurrence of the Aug. 6th accident," authors of the report wrote for an independent review team within the Labor Department.

On Aug. 6, 2007, six miners were trapped by a catastrophic collapse within the Crandall Canyon Mine in Emery County. After 10 days of digging, trying to reach the men, three more men were killed in another collapse.

Thursday's release of the reports left unanswered questions about why miners went after sections of coal that were supposed to have been left untouched. And there were anger and tears from family members who lost loved ones as they were taken back in time to nearly one year ago to the tragedies.

After a year of waiting, the results of MSHA's investigation confirmed what many victims' families and their lawyers said they already knew.

"It was a catastrophic outburst of the coal pillars that were used to support the group above the coal seam," explained Richard Stickler, acting assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health during a press briefing detailing the long-awaited report.

A MSHA briefing for families Thursday morning corroborated for some that the Crandall Canyon mining plan was "flawed" prior to the Aug. 6 collapse. Coal was reportedly being mined from an area where the plan prohibited removing structures meant to support a mountain of rock and coal above those miners.

There were reports Thursday that critical information about geologic "bounces" in March and early August was either not reported or inadequately submitted to MSHA.

MSHA is proposing what officials called the highest fine amount for a coal-mining-related incident in history and the second highest in mining history.

MSHA is proposing to fine mine operator Genwal Resources Inc., owned by Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray, $1.6 million, while also fining mine engineering firm Agapito Associates Inc. $220,000 for its "flawed engineering analysis." In total, 21 citations or violations were issued — 10 of those (nine to Genwal and one to Agapito) relating directly to the accident. Those fines are subject to appeal.

Genwal attorney Kevin Anderson said Thursday that MSHA's report was tainted and lacked testimony of certain experts that could have shed more light on mining practices taking place prior to Aug. 6.

"But regrettably, this report does not have the benefit of all of the facts and appears to have been tainted in part by 10 months of relentless political clamoring to lay blame for these tragic events," Anderson said. He added how Genwal will continue its own investigation and do whatever it can to make mining safer.

Wendy Black, wife of killed rescuer Dale Black, said that what she heard in the briefing from MSHA only reinforced what she already knew about the mine plan for Crandall Canyon.

"It was flawed to begin with," Black said.

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