‘What Is the Problem at MSHA? What the Hell Is the Problem at MSHA?’
Posted By Mike Hall On September 5, 2007 @ 4:49 pm In Legislation & Politics, Bush & Co. | No Comments
That query from Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) to Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) chief Richard Stickler was just one of dozens of pointed and critical questions from members of a Senate subcommittee looking into the deadly  Crandall Canyon Mine disaster that trapped and presumably claimed the lives of six Utah miners and killed  three rescue workers last month.
Much of this morning’s hearing centered on a controversial mining plan submitted by Murray Energy Corp. and approved by MSHA that called for the use of “ retreat mining“—a mining method most safety experts say is much more dangerous than conventional methods. That belief is boosted by the fact that the mine’s previous owner had ruled against its use because of safety concerns, says Mine Workers ( UMWA) President Cecil Roberts.
Stickler, Roberts and former MSHA administrator J. Davitt McAteer were among the witnesses at the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Labor, Health and Human Services subcommittee hearing. Murray Energy CEO  Robert Murray turned down the subcommittee’s request to testify and now may be forced to appear. Says Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.):
First he says he’s too busy and now he says he’s too sick. I’m personally convinced that we need and will issue a subpoena here.
When subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) asked Stickler if he “stands behind” the mining plan MSHA approved, Stickler refused to say “yes” or “no.” He told the panel he would have to wait until the MSHA investigation is further along before answering.
However, he did say the coal company did not inform MSHA of  a series of “bumps” and “bounces”—when extreme pressure causes the walls of a mine to explode—in the area near where the retreat mining was to take place and near where the six were working. McAteer said Murray Energy’s withholding of that data:
…suggests an effort not comply or coordinate with MSHA.
Both he and Roberts unequivocally said Murray’s mining plan should never have been approved. Said McAteer:
Retreat mining, generally speaking, is the most dangerous type of mining. So you take the most dangerous type of mining in and around areas prone to bumps and bursts, with 3,000 feet of mountain above….Now, you’ve created an ultra-dangerous circumstance.
Roberts said the mine’s previous owner, Andalex Resources, already had extracted all the coal that could be mined safely.
In essence, the only coal remaining in the mine was the barriers and pillars necessary to support the roof of the mine’s main entrance….There can be no doubt that the mountain over the mine was exerting extreme pressure on the remaining coal, which was supporting the mine roof. Murray Energy was extracting that coal, using the pillar extraction method [retreat mining], at the time of the catastrophic collapse.
Before Murray Energy took over the mine, according to Roberts’ testimony, Andalex filed a report with the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining that said:
Although maximum recovery is a design criteria, other considerations must be looked at in the final analysis in the extraction of coal. These factors include the insurance of protection of personnel and the environment. Solid coal barriers will be left to protect the main entries from the mined out panels and to guarantee stability of the main entries for the life of the mine.
Despite this assessment, Murray Energy submitted a plan to MSHA for approval to mine all remaining coal reserves, including the barrier pillars. The agency took just seven business days to approve the request….MSHA’s best chance for saving the miners was on June 15, not Aug. 6 or 7. But when MSHA approved the Crandall Canyon mining plan on June 15, that chance was lost.
Article printed from AFL-CIO Weblog: http://blog.aflcio.org
URL to article: http://blog.aflcio.org/2007/09/05/what-is-the-problem-at-msha-what-the-hell-is-the-problem-at-msha/
URLs in this post:
 Crandall Canyon Mine disaster: http://blog.aflcio.org/2007/08/20/utah-miners-may-be-trapped-forever/
 three rescue workers: http://blog.aflcio.org/2007/08/17/rescuer-deaths-compound-tragedy-at-utah-mine-search-for-six-trappe
 retreat mining: http://www.sltrib.com/ci_6618171
 UMWA: http://www.umwa.org/homepage.shtml
 Robert Murray: http://blog.aflcio.org/2007/08/11/crandall-canyon-mine-owner-murray-nuts-over-talking-squirrel/
 a series of “bumps: http://blog.aflcio.org/2007/08/14/danger-signs-at-crandall-canyon-mine-raised-five-months-ago/