SALT LAKE CITY — The consultants whose poor engineering analysis contributed to the catastrophic mine collapse at Crandall Canyon will pay a $100,000 fine for "high negligence," in a settlement announced Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The agreement between the Mine Safety and Health Administration and Agapito Associates Inc., closes the final chapter against the trio of corporate actors that played a role in the 2007 tragedy in Emery County.
“With this settlement, Agapito takes responsibility for its role in the tragic mine collapse at Crandall Canyon,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for the Mine Safety and Health Administration. “Since this tragedy occurred, the agency has made a number of enforcement, administrative and regulatory reforms to improve the health and safety of the nation’s miners, particularly in the area of roof control safety.”
Main conceded that while the $100,000 penalty may seem minimal in light of the magnitude of the tragedy, he stressed that it is not insignificant that the consultant firm acknowledged responsibility that amounted to "high negligence."
"There is some accountability here," he said. "High negligence, that is meaningful action in the litigation process. This is something that folks should not take lightly."
Miners Kerry Allred, Don Erickson, Luis Hernandez, Carlos Payan, Brandon Phillips and Manuel Sanchez were nearing the end of their 12-hour shift when the mine collapsed during the early morning hours of Aug. 6, 2007.
According to MSHA’s investigation, the miners were killed when roof-supporting coal pillars collapsed in a catastrophic outburst that violently ejected coal over a half-mile area in the underground mine tunnels. The force of the collapse was so violent it initially registered as a 3.9-magnitude earthquake.
Ten days later, MSHA inspector Gary Jensen and two mine employees, Brandon Kimber and Dale Black, died in another coal outburst that occurred during rescue efforts. The investigation found that the flawed engineering analysis by Agapito resulted in an inadequate mine design, with unsafe pillar dimensions, which contributed to the accident.
Despite repeated rescue attempts that dragged on for weeks, the original six miners' bodies were never recovered and they remain entombed at Crandall Canyon, which has since been idled.
MSHA said Genwal and its parent company, UtahAmerican Energy Inc., submitted their mining plan to the agency based on Agapito’s analysis.
If the settlement is approved by the administrative law judge, it will mark the end of legal proceedings brought by the federal government because of Crandall Canyon.
Last year, Genwal Resources and Andalex Resources Inc., also owned by UtahAmerican Energy, agreed to pay nearly $950,000 in civil penalties for Crandall Canyon violations.
In that agreement, Solicitor of Labor M. Patricia Smith said the two companies acknowledged failures that led to the "needless deaths of nine members of the mining community."
Additionally, Genwal Resources pleaded guilty in federal court to two criminal misdemeanors for its willful violation of mandatory health and safety standards at the mine and agreed to pay a $500,000 fine.
Main added that the breadth of actions taken against the trio of companies stem from a series of actions that went beyond mere missteps — but constituted failures in industry and in regulatory oversight at the time to ensure the safety of miners.
"We have made a lot of changes on our side of street and are holding mine operators more accountable from all the lessons we have learned for this experience," Main said.
Utah's latest coal mining death, that of Elam Jones, 29, happened on March 22 at the Rhino Mine, not far from Crandall in Huntington Canyon. Jones was crushed by a slab of rock during a retreat mining operation that remains under investigation by MSHA. His cousin, Dallen McFarlane, was injured but survived.