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Vol. 72/No. 13      March 31, 2008

Company and federal safety agency
faulted in collapse of Utah mine
A Senate committee report released March 6 confirms the responsibility of Murray Energy Corporation and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) for an August 2007 collapse at the Crandall Canyon mine outside Huntington, Utah.

Six miners died as a result of the cave-in, and three others were killed in the rescue attempt.

The report draws on interviews and correspondence of both company and MSHA officials.

Murray Energy bought the mine in August 2006. Its plan was to retreat mine, taking out the bulk of barrier pillars of coal holding up the main tunnels in the mine. The majority of coal in this area had already been removed under the mine’s previous owners, Andalex Resources.

The Senate report says the plan to collapse the pillars should not have been approved by MSHA, and documents the failure of both Murray Energy and MSHA to stop mining as conditions deteriorated.

Early in 2007 the company began retreat mining the north pillar. The report documents several “bounces,” roof falls, and other dangerous conditions during that operation. It documents company CEO Robert Murray’s awareness of the conditions.

In March 2007 a large bounce in the north pillar caused heavy damage. The bounce occurred under about 2,000 feet of cover. The greater amount of cover means more pressure on the remaining pillars. MSHA did not investigate the bounce. As a result of the bounce, the company ceased mining the north pillar and moved instead to the south pillar.

Retreat mining there began in mid-July. The fatal collapse occurred just weeks later. According to the report, Murray Energy aggravated the situation by mining bottom coal, which weakened the remaining pillars, and by mining pillars that MSHA had told them to leave in place.

Murray has been subpoenaed to appear before House and Senate committees.

Six coal miners have been killed on the job so far in 2008, with the latest death occurring March 12 in West Virginia. Coal mine deaths rose in the last two years after a low of 23 in 2005. In 2006, 47 coal miners were killed, and in 2007, 33 were killed. In Utah, in addition to the miners killed at Crandall Canyon, a truck driver was run over outside the Co-Op mine owned by C.W. Mining Company, several miles down the road from Crandall Canyon.

Miners at Co-Op waged a fight from 2003 to 2006 to win representation by the United Mine Workers of America for better safety conditions and higher wages.
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