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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah mining regulators say the Tuesday bankruptcy filing by Murray Energy — once the nation’s largest privately held coal company — will not impact its commitments for reclamation at its trio of idled mines in Utah, including the ill-fated Crandall Canyon where nine men died 12 years ago.
“We calculated and updated all of their bonds recently, and we feel like they have plenty of insurance,” said Dana Dean, deputy director of the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining. “We have the bonds that we need to do the work that is needed.”
Dean added the company has $7 million in bonds for reclamation in Utah.
Murray Energy has three idled coal mines in Utah: Centennial, also known as Andalex, West Ridge and Crandall Canyon, where a portion of the mine’s interior collapsed on Aug. 6, 2007, trapping six miners 1,800 feet underground. In a rescue attempt 10 days later, three men died and several others were injured as they made entry into the mine.
The bodies of the miners have never been recovered from that area of the mine, which is now shut and sealed.
All three of those mines are in “temporary cessation,” because technically, there are still coal reserves that could be accessed, Dean said.
Lila Canyon is an active mining operation in Carbon County and operates under the purview of Murray Energy.
“There’s good coal there and they are continuing to maintain it,” she said. “The people in Utah have been very responsive to us.”
A reclamation plan for Crandall Canyon remains under review.
There’s good coal there and they are continuing to maintain it. The people in Utah have been very responsive to us.
–Dana Dean, Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining.
Dean said company officials submitted the plan earlier this year, which raised some questions by the mining division so it was returned for subsequent details.
“They gave us a preliminary plan for reclamation that they are now reviewing.”
The company is also continuing to operate a water treatment plant at Crandall, although the state said water quality tests showed contamination levels of iron had dropped sufficiently that treatment is no longer needed. Water began discharging from the north portals of the mine due to gravity about nine years ago, prompting additional regulatory moves by the division.
At one point, the state required an additional $325,000 surety bond due to the contamination, but that has since been removed.
“The samples of raw water were actually in compliance with the discharge permit, but they continue to operate the plant,” Dean said.
The planned reclamation of Crandall Canyon does come with some wrinkles, as Dean explained, because of a subsequent memorial erected to the fallen miners and rescuers.
Typically, the division requires mine reclamation to return any surface disturbance to its natural existence prior to any mining operation.
But in the case of Crandall Canyon, the public will need a parking lot and road to access the poignant memorial, which includes stone markers with the six fallen miners’ faces engraved on them and three benches honoring the rescuers who died.
“There needs to be a parking lot and a trail for the public to access that,” she said.
Even as Murray Energy’s bankruptcy filing signals more trouble for the coal industry, Dean emphasized that the new development should have little impact in Utah.
“We don’t expect any big problems to come out of this.”