Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes
AP Photo/Rick BowmerJohn Daley Reporting
The Crandall Canyon catastrophe is inspiring fresh debate and more questions tonight as the situation there is casting a spotlight on mine safety and policy.
Gov. Jon Huntsman said this is a defining moment in mining history, and it's one sure to spur investigations, perhaps legislation, and even new research.
There are many questions that need to be answered. How did it happen? Could it have been avoided? And how do they prevent it from happening again?
Questions outnumber answers the day after three rescuers were killed, and six injured trying to save six trapped colleagues, whose location and health are unknown.
Was it simply too risky in that unstable mine to attempt a rescue?
Just last week, the editor of "Mine Safety and Health News" wrote an editorial questioning whether mine owner Bob Murray should have taken reporters and family members of the six trapped miners back into the mine. "It was for the exact reason that we saw last night. Rescuers, they know that there's a risk. It's like firemen going into a burning building. They're trained, and we just try to make things as safe as we can for these guys. But it is a judgment call, and that's where experience comes in," said Ellen Smith, managing editor of Mine Safety and Health News.
Sen. Orrin Hatch defended that decision as all about saving lives, suggesting the latest incident wasn't predictable, although some working on rescue efforts were reportedly so concerned about mountain "bumps" they'd asked Murray to be reassigned.
"You use the best technology you can, you do the best you possibly can. You hope natural disasters don't occur, like did occur. I don't think anybody could say it's anything but a natural disaster," Hatch said.
But was the retreat mining too risky in the first place? Former Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) regulator Bob Ferriter was shown the mining plan approved by MSHA. He said the plan showed that already-stressed barrier pillars were mined for more coal. "That's when I thought, ‘Boy, MSHA should not have approved that mining plan,'" he said.
He also said the pillars were already heavily loaded after long walls had earlier been mined. "Going back into a highly stressed area and trying to extract more coal is a sure way to get yourself in trouble," Ferriter added
This is a story that touches many people in ways that are sometimes overlooked. Each of us uses coal to power the power plants that give us electricity for our lights, cell phones and TVs. Per capita, we use about 20 pounds of coal a day. All of it dug out by miners like the ones at the Crandall Canyon Mine.