MSHA Proposes $1.85 Million in Fines for Crandall Canyon Mine Disaster

MSHA fined Genwal Resources Inc., the operator of the Crandall Canyon Mine in Emery County, Utah, $1,340,000 for violations that directly contributed to the deaths of six miners last year.

MSHA cited the Genwal Resources, whose parent company is Murray Energy Corp., for 11 additional, noncontributory violations issued as the result of the investigation. The penalty for these violations is $296,664, bringing the total proposed penalties against the mine operator to $1,636,664. Agapito Associates Inc., a mining engineering consultant, also was fined $220,000 for faulty analysis of the mine's design.

The six miners were killed Aug. 6, 2007, when roof-supporting coal pillars collapsed in a catastrophic coal outburst that violently ejected coal over a half-mile area in the underground tunnels. Ten days later, two mine employees and an MSHA inspector died in another coal outburst that occurred during rescue efforts.

Reporting Failures

According to MSHA, Genwal Resources failed to immediately report three previous coal outbursts that threw coal into the mine openings and disrupted regular mining activities for more than an hour. Two of these incidents occurred in March 2007, and one just 3 days before the Aug. 6 accident.

“These reporting failures were critical, because they deprived MSHA of the information it needed to properly assess the operator's mining plans,” said MSHA Administrator Richard E. Stickler.

In addition to the reporting failures, MSHA accident investigators cited Genwal Resources and Agapito Associates for the following violations:

  • The mine operator failed to propose revisions to the roof control plan when conditions (coal outbursts) clearly indicated that the plan was inadequate and miners were being exposed to dangerous conditions.
  • The operator violated the approved roof control plan by removing coal that was required to support the roof.
  • The operator’s outside engineering firm failed to recommend safe mining methods and pillar/barrier dimensions, and the operator failed to maintain pillar dimensions that would effectively control coal outbursts.

Genwal: Congressional Probes Created Interference

A Genwal Resources company statement indicated the company initially hoped that the MSHA investigation could bring “objective and reliable findings” to shed light on the Aug. 6 tragedy.

“But, regrettably, this report does not have the benefit of all of the facts and appears to have been tainted in part by ten months of relentless political clamoring to lay blame for these tragic events,” the statement read.

The statement pointed out that “parallel congressional probes” interfered with MSHA’s investigation. While the company would not elaborate when contacted by OccupationalHazards.com, this likely refers to the reports ordered by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Information on these reports can be found here and here.

“Not only did their reports contain false statements and inaccurate conclusions, but their actions blocked MSHA from important sources of information and expertise, including mining engineering experts who have vital knowledge of Crandall Canyon’s engineering and operations and who are at the center of MSHA’s report,” the statement read.

Because these reports were focused on laying blame instead of finding the cause of the accident, some of these experts refrained from speaking with Congress and MSHA, the statement added.

“All of the facts must be acknowledged for the accident investigation process to yield the very best improvements in mine safety. As such, we pledge to learn as much as we can especially in areas where this report is deficient,” the statement read. “We will do whatever we can to make mining safer.”

Miller, Kennedy Respond to Report

“MSHA’s report affirms the conclusions reached by our own investigation: Murray Energy should not have proposed the flawed retreat mining plan and MSHA should not have approved the plan,” said Miller in a statement. “It is tragic that the deaths of six miners and three rescuers resulted from the reckless actions of a few individuals and inadequate MSHA oversight.”

He added it was “especially troubling” that MSHA concluded that Murray Energy misled MSHA by failing to report the March 2007 coal bumps. In April, Miller asked the Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation on this subject.

“I am confident that MSHA’s additional evidence in support of our criminal referral will provide further assistance to the Department of Justice in aggressively pursuing this criminal matter,” he said.

Kennedy spokesman Anthony Coley said this latest report confirms Kennedy’s investigation report last March that found that Murray Energy “recklessly disregarded” miners’ safety and that MSHA failed to protect the miners from that danger.

“The current laws themselves are also partly to blame because they leave too much to MSHA’s discretion,” Coley said. “Senator Kennedy believes that America’s miners deserve stronger mine safety laws and stricter enforcement and will do his best when he returns to the Senate to see that Congress acts.”

For more information on the Crandall Canyon incident, read OIG: MSHA Negligent in Protecting Crandall Canyon Miners and Report Cites Mine Inspection Failures.

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