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Mine commission discusses ways to improve mine safety

Mine commission discusses ways to improve mine safety



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John Hollenhorst and Associated Press reportingA federal inspector says there were mine "bounces" and other safety issues in the Crandall Canyon mine months, and even years, before disaster struck last summer. But the information was never shared with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

Poor communication is one issue explored today by a special panel appointed by the governor. The worrisome inspection reports involved other parts of the mine that were shut down before the disasters. But the federal BLM was forced to eat crow anyway, acknowledging that communication needs to be improved.

The safety of underground mines is regulated by MSHA. But as federal landlord, the BLM leased out some of the coalfield. BLM officials regularly inspect to make sure the coal is being mined to its maximum economic potential.

Robert Murray, founder and chairman of Cleveland-based Murray Energy Corp., lowers his head after giving an update on the rescue efforts for six trapped coal miners during a news conference at the entrance to the Crandall Canyon Mine, in this Aug. 8, 2007, file photo, northwest of Huntington, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer/FILE)
Robert Murray, founder and chairman of Cleveland-based Murray Energy Corp., lowers his head after giving an update on the rescue efforts for six trapped coal miners during a news conference at the entrance to the Crandall Canyon Mine, in this Aug. 8, 2007, file photo, northwest of Huntington, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer/FILE)

Today the governor's panel finally heard from the BLM. Bob Anderson, with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said, "The BLM will not sacrifice safety to produce more coal if the physical conditions of the coal and other geological formations are such that it would jeopardize the health and safety of those in the mine."

But BLM inspection reports from 2004 to 2007 raised serious questions. Inspector Steve Falk wrote in 2004 that one area was "untenable" for future coal pillar removal. In 2005, that it "would result in pillar bursts and roof falls" and in 2006 that bumps or bounces indicated the "risks are too great" to remove coal pillars.

The BLM officials said Falk was reporting on places in the mine that were closed down. But panel chairman Scott Matheson expressed concern.

"Why wouldn't that information be shared immediately with the safety agency?" asked Matheson.

Kent Hoffman, with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management replied, "He didn't feel at any time that there was an imminent danger of any kind of catastrophic event."

Would it have made a difference? It's hard to say. But clearly, concerns in one part of the mine may have relevance in another, snd having one agency backstopping another might have kept everyone a bit more on their toes.

The BLM did admit that with benefit of hindsight, they're meeting with MSHA to devise better methods of sharing information.

Final recommendations will be made after the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration issues its report on the Crandall Canyon mine collapse, which trapped six miners in Aug. 6. Three men trying to rescue the miners died in a cave-in 10 days later.

The commission was formed in response to the disaster.

Huntsman set aside $13 million in his budget for unspecified programs. He expects to spend as much as $2 million on the commission's recommendations.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story. Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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