SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The operator of the Utah mine that collapsed in 2007, killing nine people, has reached a $1.1 million settlement with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration over safety violations.
Genwal, an affiliate of Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp., denied Thursday that any of the violations led to the deadly collapse, which leveled a section of the Crandall Canyon mine as large as 63 football fields. From the start, Murray Energy chief Bob Murray insisted that the cave-in was triggered by a natural earthquake.
MSHA chief Joe Main disputed the earthquake theory on Thursday and said Genwal admitted it thinned a coal barrier it should have left standing to hold up the mine. He said the company also failed to revise a roof control plan after ignoring early signs of trouble.
"Our investigation found that it was not an earthquake, but the mining plan and the failure to act" that caused the collapse, Main told The Associated Press.
Genwal accepted 17 safety violations, with four of them contributing to the cave-in, he said. The agency dropped another 3 violations related to the collapse of a coal pillar in another section of the mine five months earlier.
"They allowed the mine to deteriorate and ignored warning signs that contributed to the tragedy," Main said.
The $1.1 million fine was the third largest ever assessed for a U.S. coal mining operation, said Patricia Smith, the U.S. Department of Labor's chief lawyer. MSHA levied a $10.8 million fine against the operator of West Virginia's Upper Big Branch mine for a 2010 explosion that killed 29 workers. It fined Aracoma Coal Co. $4.2 million for a 2006 explosion that killed two West Virginia miners.
Genwal and related subsidiaries previously settled wrongful death lawsuits, together with criminal charges that carried a $500,000 fine.
The collapse at Crandall Canyon was so powerful it registered as a 3.9-magnitude earthquake. It instantly entombed six miners nearly a half-mile underground. Their bodies have never been recovered. Another cave-in 10 days later killed two rescuers and a federal inspector during a frantic effort to tunnel their way to the trapped miners.
Genwal's mining engineers, Grand Junction, Colo.-based mining consultants Agapito Associates Inc., are fighting a separate $220,000 fine for an allegedly faulty analysis of the mine's design. Agapito insists MSHA has jurisdiction only over mining operators, not their consulting engineers.
On Thursday, Genwal said the company and its managers "have always maintained that they believed the plan for mining the Crandall Canyon mine was safe — a belief that was shared by MSHA, who approved the plan, and the mine engineering firm on which Genwal relied."
In a lengthy report issued a year after the collapse, MSHA said the Crandall Canyon was "destined to fail" because of instability problems. But MSHA itself was lambasted by its parent agency, the Department of Labor, for lax oversight and its handling of the fatal rescue effort. Six people on the rescue team were grievously injured, in addition to the three who were killed.
The Crandall Canyon mine has a complicated ownership. Genwal, the mining operator, agreed to the settlement along with its immediate parent company, Andalex Resources Inc., which owned the mine assets with an outside partner.
Andalex is a subsidiary of UtahAmerican Energy Inc., a company owned by Murray Energy Corp.
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Upper Big Branch
Twenty-nine <a href="http://www.facesofthemine.com/faces-of-the-mine-upper-big-branch-memorial-page/" target="_hplink">miners</a> died in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine on April 5, 2010. The mine, located in Montcoal, W.Va., was owned and operated by the Performance Coal Company, a subsidiary of Massey Energy.<br><br>The Mine Safety and Health Administration <a href="http://wvgazette.com/News/montcoal/201009170861" target="_hplink">has said</a> that sparks from a worn-out piece of machinery combined with a buildup of coal dust caused the accident. Massey Energy has <a href="http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2011/01/28/massey-continues-to-dispute-msha-on-ubb-cause/" target="_hplink">continued to say</a> that a buildup of methane gas caused the explosion.<br><br>At a public meeting detailing the federal investigation, Kevin Stricklin, coal administrator for mine safety and health at MSHA, said that there were two sets of books on mine conditions kept by Massey workers -- an accurate log that included safety problems, and a separate, watered-down version for federal and state inspectors to see.<br><br>The Upper Big Branch explosion was the <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304450604576415683464733192.html?KEYWORDS=upper+big+branch" target="_hplink">worst</a> U.S. coal mining disaster in 40 years.
Crandall Canyon Mine
On Aug. 6, 2007, six miners were trapped in the Crandall Canyon Mine in Huntington, Utah, after roof-supporting pillars <a href="http://www.msha.gov/genwal/ccSummary.asp" target="_hplink">failed</a> and ejected coal over a half-mile area. Ten days later, three more people were killed by a subsequent collapse during the rescue effort.<br><br>According to the <a href="http://www.msha.gov/genwal/ccSummary.asp" target="_hplink">official</a> accident investigation summary released by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the catastrophe was the result of "an inadequate mine design." Unsafe pillar dimensions and an poor engineering management review contributed to the collapse.<br><br>In the above photo, family and friends carry the the body of Dale Black -- one of the rescue team members -- to his burial site at Huntington City Cemetery.
Darby Mine No. 1
On May 20, 2006, five miners were killed in an explosion at Darby Mine No. 1 in Holmes Mill, Kentucky. According to information <a href="http://www.usmra.com/saxsewell/darby.htm" target="_hplink">released</a> by the United States Mine Rescue Association, the explosion was the result of methane gas that was ignited by the cutting of a metal roof strap.<br><br>The miner who was working on the roof strap with a cutting torch had a functional methane detector tucked away in his pocket, a sign that it was not being used to check continuously for the potentially lethal gas. The USMRA also says a cutting torch should not have been used at the time.
On Jan. 2, 2006, an <a href="http://www.msha.gov/sagomine/sagomine.asp" target="_hplink">explosion</a> at a mine in Sago, W.Va., killed 12 workers and severely injured one. The 13 miners were <a href="http://www.msha.gov/Fatals/2006/Sago/ftl06C1-12.pdf" target="_hplink">forced</a> to barricade themselves within the mine after the explosion -- caused by elevated levels of carbon monoxide and methane -- destroyed 10 seals used to separate a closed area of the mine.<br><br>Ben Hatfield, CEO of the International Coal Group, which owned the Wolf Run Mining Company that ran the Sago Mine, received criticism when the families of the fallen miners were falsely informed that the 12 men had lived. In an interview with NPR, workers and family members who were present when Hatfield broke news of the deaths <a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5134307" target="_hplink">described</a> the scene as "chaos."
In March 1976, a succession of explosions at the Scotia Mine in Oven Fork, Ky., claimed a total of 26 lives.<br><br>The first blast happened on March 9, killing 15 men. During rescue efforts on March 11, a second explosion killed 11 more.<br><br>Investigators <a href="http://www.usmra.com/saxsewell/scotia.htm" target="_hplink">concluded</a> that both explosions were caused by the ignition of a methane-air mixture inside the mine.
Consol No. 9
An explosion at the Consol No. 9 mine in Farmington, W.Va, killed 78 people on Nov. 20, 1968. The explosion was followed by raging <a href="http://www.wvculture.org/history/disasters/farmington02.html" target="_hplink">fires</a> that brought rescue operations to a halt.<br><br>A <a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97115205" target="_hplink">memo</a> from a federal investigator that surfaced in 2008 revealed that a safety alarm on a ventilation fan had been deliberately disabled before the explosion. The alarm, which hadn't been working for as long as 90 minutes before the blast, could have saved the lives of the 78 miners.<br><br>The tragedy at Farmington led to the <a href="http://www.msha.gov/mshainfo/mshainf2.htm" target="_hplink">passage</a> of the federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act in 1969. That act paved the way for the <a href="http://www.msha.gov/REGS/ACT/ACTTC.HTM" target="_hplink">Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977</a>, the legislation that currently governs the Mine Safety and Health Administration's activities.
On Nov. 13, 1909, a fire killed hundreds of workers in a coal mine in Cherry Hill, Illinois.<br><br>According to <a href="http://www.usmra.com/saxsewell/cherry.htm" target="_hplink">reports</a> from the United States Mine Rescue Association, kerosene torches were used that day after the mine's electrical system broke down. Hay brought into the mine to feed mules that worked underground caught fire after being parked under one of the torches.<br><br>The fire quickly spread, causing the deaths of 259 men and boys who worked in the mine.
Monongah Nos. 6 And 8
On Dec. 6, 1907, explosions occurred at a pair of nearby mines in <a href="http://www.msha.gov/disaster/monongah/monon1.asp" target="_hplink">Monongah</a>, West Virginia, killing 362 men and boys. The blast could be felt as far as eight miles away.<br><br>It wrecked the mine's ventilation system, allowing toxic gas to fill the area and hinder rescue efforts. Though investigators aren't certain of the <a href="http://www.usmra.com/saxsewell/monongah.htm" target="_hplink">cause</a> of the explosion, it was probably started by the ignition of firedamp -- combustible gas made up mostly of methane -- and coal dust within the mine.