CHICAGO (ResourceInvestor.com) -- Mark Twain's (who started in Nevada journalism in the days of its Comstock Lode silver boom) old aphorism is spot on at times: "Mine: a hole in the ground with a fool at the bottom and a liar at the top." So the two 'equations' below should be borne in mind, for coal at least:
Coal: Not Fungible
Environment + Safety = Vulnerable
A mining engineering consultant, with over 30 years in the business, commented that, "we're now seeing the same old 'dogs barking' (poor properties) that haven't been heard from in over 20 years." In other words, as in many industries, boom times bring out all manner of opportunities, both good and bad. Certainly the perennial scammers can be found within the coal industry, making inflated or false representations on coal-bearing properties. Others might have a going operation but find a way to loot it in the process of selling it to an investor. More typically those issues affect smaller, private capital entities. However, perhaps there's a bigger risk going forward that can afflict otherwise solid, publicly traded producers.
What, you say, could trip up a major mining company?
Well, we've all seen the environmental debacles, e.g. the Summitville gold mine (1986 cyanide spill in Colorado becoming a $210-million Superfund site), the Iron Mountain pyrite mine (acid mine drainage from the 1860s in California with a $1-billion settlement), and the Martin County coal-tailings spill in east Kentucky in 2000: over 250 million gallons of coal fines (sludge) impacted scores of miles of waterways.. The latter was characterized by the U.S. EPA the worst environmental catastrophe in the history of the eastern United States-far more extensive in damage than the widely known 1989 Exxon Valdez oil-tanker spill. And we're well aware of the acid rain (debunked by the American Association of Foresters among others) scare that was used by environmental zealots as a stalking horse to throttle coal mining. Activism on a surface mining method known as "mountain top removal" has been a rallying point for the anti-mining types. So, together with the global warming alarmism, the activists have assembled several winning (for them) obstructionist strategies.
Don't for a minute assume that anti-mining activists will not seize on the opportunity to link mining's negative environmental images with "keeping America's miners safe." We've all heard the "it's for the children" when they lack factual and logical bases for their positions. Some companies, and the federal government itself, have given grist for the zealots to grind.
Sadly federal government agencies-from the FAA, CPSC, and FDA to workplace agencies under the U.S. Dept. of Labour, OSHA and MSHA (Mine Safety & Health Administration)-have been impacted by years of defacto budget cuts and less than effective enforcement of existing regulations.
Consequently it's safety that looms as the proverbial "800-lb gorilla" for all mining sectors, from aggregates and coal through metals and non-metallics. And one powerhouse Washington, DC-based law firm specializing in mining law has written regularly in industry trade publications about implications to sectors outside of coal.
According to the VP Communications for a major, international metal-mining company, Utah's Crandall Canyon mine-disaster of just one year ago did more damage to the U.S. mining industry than all three of the coal-mine disasters of early 2006 (two of the three, Sago and Aracoma mines respectively, occurred in publicly traded firms: International Coal Group, ICG; and Massey Energy, MEE). ICG was on a very positive share-price curve until it lost over half of its market cap-hundreds of millions of dollars, regaining it only in the 2008 boom in coal.
A Congressional subcommittee, chaired by George Miller (D-CA-how many coal mines are in California? Zero, nada), has been championing more stringent-and many say, impractical-new regulations. The MINER Act of 2006 was the opening volley, and it cost the coal sector alone an estimated $500 million for compliance in its only its first six months-full compliance may be many months forward. MINER Act II has been in the wings and, if the Democrats achieve the landslide-Congressionally and in the White House-as some think, very tough legislative times may lie ahead for mining. And even if the Republican candidate wins the Presidency, will he spend his likely limited 'political capital' in vetoes to cushion the mining industry from Congressional zealots? Would you bet money on it?
Major government action in mining isn't unprecedented. In 1910, with the coal industry seeing some 3,000 fatalities annually, Congress created the U.S. Bureau of Mines (USBM) to develop advanced mine safety technologies. (The federal government didn't get into meaningful mine safety regulation with MSHA, ne'e MESA, until the Mannington coal-mine explosion of 1969.) It met an ignominious end when the environmental activist then-Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt-in the Clinton administration-unilaterally abolished it, supposedly in the name of cost cutting (a separate article could be written on that pretextual action which can be summarized as "payback for good science" by the USBM...and a failed presidential bid he likely thought was torpedoed by his being seen as 'Governor Scabbit' as, under Arizona's constitution, and as governor, he had to bring in the National Guard during the Phelps Dodge copper strike.).
So, underlying the government/industry conundrum is a 30-year stretch of ever improving U.S. mine safety that was broken; indeed U.S. world leadership in mine safety effectively was ceded to Australia. That string was broken by the three Appalachian disasters (fire/explosion) of 2006. They were bad enough, with more loss of life-in total-than the Crandall Canyon mine cave-in. But, unlike the eastern incidents, the western debacle saw the industry's image greatly sullied in the media with dozens of faux pas in the electronic media. Additive to that are the recently released findings of the independent investigation of both the run-up to the disaster as well as how the company and MSHA acquitted themselves during the ill-fated rescue attempts in the weeks following.
All isn't gloom and doom. There are that are proactive on the environmental and safety front. Indeed, one concept from the metal mining sector-which the writer first encountered, at the Gold Symposium in Lima, Peru several years ago-was the 'triple bottom line." In brief it melds the conventional fiscal with environmental and social bottom-lines. The benefit is obvious-it buttresses a company's 'social contract' and public support when it seeks to expand or open new operations.
Editorial note: The two following reports are intended to provide the reader with a more comprehensive view of the Crandall Canyon mine disaster findings:
- The first is a summary of the investigation's findings; and
- The second addresses why, for the first time in its over-30-year history, the federal mine safety agency (MSHA) has gone after an engineering company.
Is the latter the proverbial 'canary in the coal mine,' a harbinger of tougher federal mining laws? Another tell tale is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which has enjoyed perhaps the best mine safety record of any state for decades. This year it significantly revised its mining laws from the 1960 statutes.
Some long-time industry professionals have told the writer that the investigation's revelations "make (their) blood boil." And, while some of the content is "inside baseball" in nature, a scan of the subheadings and key text will give the reader a flavour of the situation unavailable anywhere else. The reports are included courtesy of the publisher: Mine Safety and Health News, 888 Pittsford Mendon Center Road, Pittsford, NY 14534; Phone: 585-721-3211; Fax: 585-582-2879; E-mail email@example.com; and Web www.MineSafety.com
Glaring Shortcomings In MSHA Inspections, Actions Surrounding Crandall Canyon Disaster
MSHA should have never approved of the mining plan at the Crandall Canyon Mine and agency staff members were aware of previous outbursts or bounces at the ill-fated mine, according to an independent report conducted by former MSHA managers Earnie Teaster and Joe Pavlovich on behalf of the Labour Dept.
The review of MSHA's actions was requested by U.S. Labour Secretary Elaine Chao. In addition to finding deficiencies that lead up to the Aug. 6, 2007 mine collapse, the two investigators found deficiencies in MSHA's performance during the rescue operation that may have affected the outcome of the Aug. 16, 2007 accident that killed three rescuers. The findings and MSHA's response are contained in a 251-page document released on July 25.
Teaster and Pavlovich also found the same or similar deficiencies noted after the Sago, Darby and Aracoma mine disasters, but not corrected by the agency at the time of the Aug. 6, 2007 Crandall Canyon disaster. Some of the repeated deficiencies were related to command centre security, briefing, debriefing, and SS 103(k) order issues.
As in the case of the Sago Mine, Aracoma and Darby disasters, Teaster and Pavlovich said in the case of Crandall Canyon, MSHA inspectors and management failed to follow policies and procedures related to regular inspections and failed to adequately document inspection activities and findings.
At Sago, as well as Crandall Canyon, there was no protocol established by the persons-in-charge for conducting initial briefings and regular formal briefings. Copies of approved plans were not always provided to
or discussed with rescue workers prior to entering the mine. Like Sago, the two investigators found at the Crandall Canyon disaster that MSHA did not ensure secure communications between the underground rescue area and the command centre.
Another issue not corrected after Sago and found in the case of Crandall Canyon is that MSHA's mine emergency equipment is outdated or in a bad state of repair. Equipment broke down or would not work. For instance, the Mine Emergency Mobile Command Centre vehicle took over one hour to start. A Ventilation Van (IR Van) that contains gas sampling equipment, was driven from Pittsburgh, Pa., to Utah, and broke down in Indianapolis, Ind. It had to have a new transmission installed. In the case of MSHA's seismic location system, it's 30 year old technology rated to sense sound and vibration at depths to about 1500 feet. The depth at Crandall Canyon was over 1800 feet at the location in the mine where the miners were trapped. Teaster and Pavlovich also found that regularly scheduled field tests for the emergency equipment were not being conducted due to budgetary constraints.
As in the case of Sago, and as early as the 2001 Jim Walter Mine disaster, MSHA's handbook with emergency contacts had not been updated since 1999. Many persons listed as emergency contacts, both in Headquarters and the district offices, were no longer employed by MSHA or were in different positions within the Agency. They found that a review of mine rescue teams listed on MSHA's website indicates that the list is not current.
Problems Before the Disaster
Teaster and Pavlovich found nine shortcomings with District 9's mining plan approval process.
There was an inadequate evaluation on the part of MSHA of the engineering data and inconsistencies in the engineering data submitted by the mine operator to MSHA to justify mining in the North and South Barriers. While an MSHA engineer found five problems with the engineering/mining plan, his concerns were never addressed by the operator in writing. Instead, Billy Ownes, head of MSHA's Roof Control Division for Dist. 9 held phone conversations with representatives of the Mine, without additional clarifying information being submitted to the agency. Teaster and Pavlovich said there was no documentation on how the inconsistencies were resolved.
MSHA personnel knew about, but failed to consider the impact of the March 10, 2007 bounce in the North Barrier section prior to approving retreat mining in the South Barrier section. Emails and notes dated March 12, 2007 and March 13, 2007 suggested that Allyn Davis - the Dist. 9 Manager, Billy Owens - Supervisor for the roof control division, and John Fredland - Technical Support seal specialist, all knew about the March 10th bounce, but took no follow-up action to investigate. In addition, the company's engineering firm, Agapito Associates Inc., mentioned the bounce in an April 18th report to MSHA. The investigators said Owens did not personally investigate the bounce, nor did he direct any member of his roof control staff to do so. In addition, neither he nor any other personnel from the District Office contacted the Price Field Office to ascertain if an inspector was available to investigate the bounce.
"Simply hearing the word "bounce" should have been a red flag that an investigation was warranted," wrote Teaster and Pavlovich. .
The two investigators also found that at no time did MSHA personnel to observe and evaluate pillaring operations, which is mandated in the coal mine inspectors' handbook. Because of this, MSHA was not able to properly evaluate the adequacy of the company's roof control plan.
Another issue that has come up in previous investigations are safety complaints.
The Price Field Office did not investigate any complaints given to them verbally (face-to-face). Both supervisors stated that they did not believe that verbal complaints were required to be investigated, although required by the Hazards Complaint Procedures Handbook.
Teaster and Pavlovich also found that the Price Field Office supervisors did not enter every complaint they investigated into the Hazardous Condition Complaint System as required.
MSHA's Response to the Accident
The investigation team noted that two of MSHA's Technical Support roof control experts from Pittsburgh, Michael Guana and Joseph Zelankothis, were not able to get to Crandall Canyon for more than 36 hours after the accident. They were not instructed to go to the mine until noon the day of the accident, but by then it was too late to arrange air travel from Pittsburgh to Salt Lake City.
Teaster and Pavlovich also noted two people "notably absent" from the rescue operation: William Knepp and Billy Owens.
Knepp was the assistant Assistant District 9 Manager for Technical Programs, and had been in this position for several years. He was familiar with mining conditions in the west, and had been involved in various mine emergencies.
When Allyn Davis, the District Manager was asked why Knepp wasn't at the disaster, Davis told the investigators "in my mind, I didn't want to take both ADMs (assistant district managers) out of the district."
Owens was the Supervisor of the Roof Control Branch. In addition to working with the Crandall Canyon operator, Owens was considered one of the most knowledgeable and experienced roof control experts in MSHA, especially concerning mining conditions in the western United States under deep cover, where bounces occur frequently. For years, Owens had worked as a Technical Support roof control specialist and supervisor in MSHA's western Technical Support Centre, and was the Director of the Centre prior to its closing in 1997. He had performed much work in the area of preventing and minimizing bounces throughout his career, yet was not included in the rescue operation.
Teaster and Pavlovich stated that Owens may have been instrumental in evaluating the bounces that were occurring during the rescue attempt and determining whether the support system being used during the rescue was adequate to protect personnel.
When the head of the coal office, Kevin Stricklin, was asked why Owens wasn't brought to the mine disaster, Stricklin stated that he and Stickler discussed having Owens brought to the mine. He stated that Stickler said, "since we had tech support there, let's leave Billy Owens in Denver because he's going to be involved in this controversy of the plan approval. We'll keep him separated from what was going on out here."
When Stickler was asked by the investigators why Owens was never at the mine, Stickler stated that he never had time to think about it. He stated MSHA had Technical Support personnel from Pittsburgh there and Owens still had work to complete in the Denver office.
Teaster and Pavlovich both faulted MSHA for leaving these two employees at the district, and also faulted MSHA for not getting the roof control experts to the site. "MSHA should respond to any mine emergency with the most knowledgeable personnel available. Contacts to Technical Support should be timely and accurate to allow for their quick response," the investigators wrote.
No Central Command Centre
Who's in Charge?
The report notes that instead of one central command centre as dictated by mine rescue protocol, there were two command centres - one established by MSHA and the second established by the mine operator.
Teaster and Pavlovich wrote that "a single command centre should have been maintained at all times with persons who were focused on the rescue operations to properly evaluate events as they unfolded."
The investigators found that no one was sure who was "in charge" of the mine rescue efforts.
The District 9 Mine Emergency Response Plan (MERP) states that the first Authorized Representative of the Secretary (MSHA enforcement personnel) to arrive at the site will represent MSHA until he or she is relieved or assigned other duties by a higher ranking official. The plan further states that "it is generally understood that the MSHA person-in-charge will normally be the District Manager." The plan does not address who would be in charge if the Administrator or the Assistant Secretary for MSHA arrives at the mine, thus, becoming the highest ranking official for MSHA.
Since Stickler was the most senior person in MSHA, his arrival at the mine site created some confusion as to who was MSHA's person-in-charge.
Stickler stated that he did not consider himself as the person-in-charge of the rescue operation. However, he stated that when he was at the mine site he made decisions on matters that were addressed to him and assumed that subordinates came to him because they considered him as the person-in-charge of the rescue operation.
Stricklin stated that he thought that Davis, the district manager, was the person who was in charge overall, and that on each shift a different supervisor in the command centre was in charge.
Davis stated that when Stickler and Stricklin arrived at the mine they became the senior
MSHA people on site, and therefore "in-charge," but that he (Davis) continued to approve plans submitted by the company regarding the rescue effort.
However, District 9 inspectors, supervisors, managers, and MSHA's Mine Emergency Unit personnel stated that Stickler indicated that he was in charge of the rescue operation. Richard Kulczewski, Public Affairs Director for Department of Labour's Regions 7 and 8, stated, that in his opinion, Stickler was "definitely" in charge for MSHA.
Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., who was a continuing presence at the rescue site, stated that he thought Stricklin, not Stickler, was in charge.
No Formal Briefings
Perhaps because there were two command centres, MSHA had one and the company had one, or no one was sure who was in charge, the investigators found there were no formal briefings or debriefings held for rescuers going into or coming out of the mine.
MSHA inspectors and specialists told Teaster and Pavlovich that they usually stopped by the MSHA command centre and were sometimes handed a copy of the general plan that had been approved. Seldom was the plan ever discussed with them, nor were they assigned specific duties. They were not informed of the occurrences or progress of the work done on the preceding shift, and would usually only receive an update if they happened to encounter inspectors exiting the mine. Some inspectors also stated they were not given an initial briefing on their first day at the mine to inform them of what had occurred or been done underground up to that time. For example, there were inspectors who stated they never knew a bounce had occurred in the No. 4 entry early on August 7th.
Specialists told Teaster and Pavlovich never clearly briefed or informed of what was expected of them, nor were they briefed on plan changes.
The investigators found that few, if any, debriefings were conducted with inspectors or specialists as they exited the mine. Several MSHA employees stated there were times when they wanted to convey concerns or ideas, but that no one was available or had the time to listen to what they had to say. An MSHA inspector who was knocked down during a bounce that registered 2.2 on the Richter scale stated that he waited outside in the command centre for an hour and one half to tell someone about what had happened and what his concerns were, but no one was available.
It does not appear that the mine operator's employees or rescue team members were regularly debriefed either.
"A significant shortcoming related to this was when approximately twelve miners asked to be withdrawn from the rescue area. MSHA's persons-in-charge said they heard about this but never followed up to interview the miners or find out what their concerns were. Experienced miners, working diligently to try to rescue their fellow co-workers, don't usually ask to be withdrawn without good reason. It would appear that this would have been information that they would need to know," Teaster and Pavlovivh wrote.
There were also difficulties in getting MSHA employees in and out of the mine. They would get into or leave the mine whenever a ride was available. From the beginning of the mine rescue on August 6th to the second accident on August 16th, the MSHA employees never had regular transportation in and out of the mine, and because of this there were times when there was no MSHA personnel underground.
If regular debriefings had been conducted, Teaster and Pavlovivh said this information would have been made known to the persons-in-charge.
Even if they could have been or were debriefed, some MSHA employees said they weren't made to feel comfortable in voicing their opinions. Although Stickler stated, "My approach has always been to try to build teamwork when you're involved in these things", and "I tried to do the same thing at Crandall Canyon", it appears this did not occur.
One inspector stated, "He doesn't seem very approachable" and "The way he was conducting himself, he just didn't seem like he wanted to be talked to." Many other MSHA personnel made similar comments.
MSHA personnel also indicated to the investigators they were reluctant to offer information.
Several MSHA personnel stated that, during the course of the rescue operation, Stickler threatened to fire them or send them home if they could not record footage advancement measurements the way that he wanted them recorded. One MSHA employee stated, "Everybody got fired there at least once." Another MSHA employee stated that Stickler threatened to "Fire us all. It wasn't just me. It was fire us all and get more players, if we couldn't get it in that book the way he wanted it."
However, Stickler stated that he did not threaten to fire or replace anyone. He stated that he told Davis, the district manager, his concerns and expected them to be addressed.
The MSHA investigators stated, "Stickler's interaction with the MSHA employees on-site during the rescue operation created an environment that hindered the communication process. This may have led to valuable information not being shared with the persons-in-charge."
Check-In, Check-Out System Lacking
Teaster and Pavlovich noted that at times there were up to 70 people in the mine, yet there was not a reliable check-in/check-out system.
Neither MSHA nor the company stationed anyone at the portal to keep a log of persons as they entered and exited the mine. While the company implemented a check-in and check-out system that required anyone going underground to inform the dispatcher, attach a name tag on a board in the bath house, and write their name in a notebook, the investigators stated there were several instances when MSHA failed to ensure all persons checked in and out of the mine.
Teaster and Pavlovich said the company log did not have the check-in/check-out information on the on the same page. Also, the names of the reporters who went into the mine on August 8th were not listed in the log book and they also found that MSHA personnel shown to be checked into the mine were actually back at the hotel where they were staying.
Violations of 103(k) Order
The investigators found that there were several instances in which the 103(k) order was violated. Under the Mine Act, a 103(k) order is to provide for the safety of any person in a mine after an accident has occurred.
The first violation came after the accident, when an MSHA inspector verbally ordered the mine to be evacuated, but there were several personnel underground trying to repair ventilation controls and find a way to reach the six trapped miners. Teaster and Pavlovich stated "this underground activity was technically in violation of the order."
However, the investigators pointed out that there is no policy governing verbal 103(k) orders, which is what was in place during this time, before the mine inspector arrived on the scene.
More importantly, Teaster and Pavlovich stated that both MSHA and the mine operator violated the 103(k) order "both literally and in this historical aspect. These instances were: allowing media to go underground, allowing family members to go underground, and failing to control the number of people entering the mine."
People 'Put in Harms Way'
On the issue of the media underground, the report states that Stickler told Murray that he did not have a problem with Murray taking the film crew underground, and on the evening of Aug. 8, the company selected five reporters to go underground.
When the reporters arrived at the mine site, they were told by MSHA personnel that they would not be allowed to go underground without approval from the district manager and modification of the SS 103(k) order. However, right after this, Stickler arrived and informed the MSHA personnel that he was allowing the reporters to go underground. Stickler told Teaster and Pavlovich that he thought it would benefit the families to see the video.
The MSHA supervisor who observed the required hazard training given to the reporters documented that it was "fast and not very good." A supervisor and an inspector took three hours time off from their duties to travel underground with the reporters to ensure their safety.
Teaster and Pavlovich said MSHA personnel said the reporters "delayed", "held up", and otherwise "hindered" the rescue operation. They said at one point during the rescue, the light of the television camera was shining into the eyes of a shuttle car operator, making it difficult for him to steer around a pillar. According to notes taken by MSHA personnel, Murray stated that the shuttle car operator was a bad operator, and directed that the man be replaced.
Teaster and Pavlovich wrote: "The purpose of a SS 103(k) order is to provide for the safety of any person in a mine after an accident has occurred. In this case, people were unnecessarily put in harm's way. The reporters were not familiar with the hazards that were present underground. The lights of the video camera presented a hazard to the rescue workers, as an accident could have occurred because the shuttle car operator was temporarily blinded by the bright camera lights. Many of the MSHA personnel who observed the reporters underground felt it was just a publicity stunt by Murray that hindered the underground operation.
Many MSHA personnel stated that they not only had to concentrate on the rescue operation, but that they also had the extra responsibility of ensuring the reporters did not get hurt or interfere with the rescue workers."
Teaster and Pavlovich noted that Crandall Canyon did not have a photography plan approved. MSHA did not give specific approval to allow any other use of photography equipment. The SS 103(k) order was never modified to allow the reporters to go underground, and most MSHA personnel interviewed stated they believed it was a violation of the SS 103(k) order for the reporters to go underground.
A plan approved under the order on August 8th did state that all unnecessary personnel will be kept outby the fresh air base at crosscut 119. The media crew went inby crosscut 119 to video the rescue operation.
Family members, who were experienced miners, also went underground and most MSHA personnel stated the family members should not have been permitted to go underground. They stated that since the family members were not part of the rescue operation, their underground excursions violated the SS 103(k) order.
Rescuers and MSHA personnel also stated that there were company employees who were observing what was going on, but were not a part of the rescue effort. MSHA inspectors stated "they were not aware when the operator was bringing unnecessary people into the mine until they arrived in the rescue area. The inspectors stated that these unnecessary people were disruptive to the operation in that they had to stop the mining machine and haulage equipment from operating while they were in the face area. The inspectors stated that these were unnecessary hindrances to the operation."
Teaster and Pavlovich said MSHA "failed to adequately evaluate the risk of injury by allowing persons not involved in the rescue operation to go into the mine," and the continuing bounces throughout the rescue, followed by the deadly Aug. 16th bounce confirmed the danger that existed. Allowing any people in the mine who were not involved with the rescue violated the SS 103(k) order according to the investigators.
Controlling the Message, Misinformation, Liaisons
The Family Liaison, as dictated by the MINER Act, thought he was supposed to conduct family briefings. Instead, according to the investigators, Davis, Stickler or Jack Kuzar from Coal Dist. 1 conducted daily briefings, as well as the mine operator, Robert Murray, or the vice president for the company, Robert Moore. According to the investigators, the briefings were conducted jointly, and the company officials almost always started the briefings.
Teaster and Pavlovich found that MSHA did not always provide clear and accurate information regarding the mine accident to the families, nor did the agency correct or contradict misleading or incomplete information presented by Murray during the family briefings. The agency did not conduct or control family briefings consistent with the MINER Act, according to the investigators.
Teaster and Pavlovich stated that Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., MSHA personnel, and many of the family members said Murray frequently became very irate and would start yelling at the families during the briefings, especially when they asked a question that challenged him or that he did not like. Murray sometimes was so loud that small children of the family members would become startled or even cry. Family members stated that Murray was impatient with and intimidating to the families.
Murray made statements at the family briefings that were not related to the rescue effort. Some of these statements were "You should not talk to the media or the Union"; "the media is telling you lies;" and "the Union is your enemy." Family members stated that they were hesitant to challenge Murray or make him angry for fear he would stop the rescue operation, or would retaliate against the trapped miners by discharging them when they were rescued.
Stickler stated that, following the family briefing on the afternoon of August 7th, he met privately with Murray. Stickler told Murray that Murray's behaviour was inappropriate and that he should delegate responsibility for conducting future family briefings to a subordinate, but Murray declined the suggestion. Stickler also stated that prior to conducting future briefings Murray would agree on what was to be discussed at the briefings, but once the briefings started Murray would say whatever was on his mind.
Near the end of the morning briefing on August 8th, a person who was translating for the non-English speaking family members asked Murray if he would stop at the end of each statement so she could translate the information prior to going to the next statement. Murray became angry and stormed out of the building.
Shortly after this outburst, Governor Huntsman met with the translator and some of the family members who stated that they could no longer tolerate Murray's behaviour. The Governor and Stickler then asked Murray to come back into the building to discuss a possible resolution to the problem. It was decided that Murray would allow Moore to be the company spokesman at future briefings. However, Murray continued to attend many of the family briefings and, eventually, again became the lead spokesman for the company.
Stickler stated that he and Murray had privately discussed Murray's demeanour, but Murray would have outbursts that would upset the families. Finally, on August 21st, Stickler decided that Murray's actions were so detrimental to the meetings that he requested Sheriff Larry Guymon, the Emery County sheriff, to bar Murray from the family centre.
Governor Huntsman and family members told the investigators that MSHA never really took control of the briefings.
Teaster and Pavlovich recommended that MSHA should clarify or revise the policy to definitively state who will conduct the family briefings for MSHA in a mine emergency; develop a contingency plan on how they will handle family briefings if company officials or any other party interfere with MSHA's responsibility of being the primary source of information; and, should request a legal opinion from the Office of the Solicitor regarding MSHA's authority at the location of the family briefings if they are held off mine property.
Accurate Information Not Provided to Families or Press
Teaster and Pavlovich were told by family members they felt they were given misleading or incomplete information on the possibility of the miners surviving the initial bounce and their likelihood of survival after the accident. It was not until after the rescue was called off that they learned the full extent of the accident such as the entries being filled with debris and lack of oxygen.
The family members strongly felt they should have been informed of the chances of survival of the miners from the beginning of the rescue attempt. The Governor agreed with the family members. Huntsman stated that much of the false hope was caused by statements made by Murray and that Murray's statements were not always balanced with a sense of reality.
Huntsman stated that, at times, Stickler would attempt to contradict Murray about misleading statements, and Murray would argue with him in front of families. However, some family members could not recall Stickler contradicting or correcting statements. Family members said they believed that Stickler also was intimidated by Murray and did very little to correct or dispute incorrect information that was being given to the families.
During press conferences neither Davis and Stickler did not take any opportunity to correct misleading or false statements made by Murray.
Teaster and Pavlovich noted that during one or more press briefings Murray:
- Insisted that the ground failure was the result of an earthquake, and continued to do so throughout the rescue attempt even though the University of Utah announced that preliminary observations suggested a shock induced by underground coal mining;
- Stated that he (Murray) and MSHA knew exactly where the missing miners were located, even though MSHA and the rescuers did not know where they were;
- Promised that rescuers would get to the trapped miners, and stated that he would "not leave this mine until those men are rescued dead or alive."
- Stated that there was enough good air in the mine for the trapped miners to remain alive for weeks, even though oxygen readings indicated levels that were too low for the men to survive very long;
- Stated that there was no "retreat mining" occurring in the immediate vicinity of the miners, and at the time of the ground failure, miners were "primary mining . . . on the advance, even though they were retreat mining;
- Stated that officials of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) were responsible for spreading the report that the mine was retreat mining solely out of a motivation to organize Crandall Canyon's miners;
- Asserted that the Crandall Canyon mine was in compliance with all laws and approved plans;
- Discussed his personal opinions of global warming legislation and national energy policy, stating that "every one of these global warming bills that has been introduced in Congress to date eliminates the coal industry and will increase your electric rate four- to five-fold" and that "people on fixed incomes will not be able to pay their electric bills";
- Provided his opinion that the coal industry is essential to the U.S. standard of living and the ability of products manufactured in the U.S. to compete in the global marketplace;
- Accused four individuals, by name, of providing self-serving, false statements to the media and cautioned the media to question the veracity and motivation of statements made by the named individuals; and
- Accused a reporter, by name, of "particularly bad reporting", and cited two news agencies, one of which employs the named reporter, of reporting false statements.
The investigators noted that following several of the first week's press briefings, Murray provided written
press releases to members of the media. These releases reiterated verbal statements he made during the immediately preceding briefing. MSHA did not issue similar press releases. "The Agency's decision not to issue written press releases appears to have deprived it of an important opportunity to help establish itself as the primary communicator by providing critical, factual information to the press," Teaster and Pavlovich wrote.
"Compliance Assistance" Impacted Inspections
Teaster and Pavlovich also found that MSHA's increased focus on compliance assistance and special emphasis activities may have impacted its ability to complete required inspections as mandated by the 1977 Mine Act.
During the time that the plans for mining the North and South Barriers were being reviewed for approval, District 9 was not fully staffed in the roof control branch, and beginning in 2006, the level of staffing in CMS&H was inadequate to complete mandated inspections and comprehensive 6-month plan reviews, such as roof control and ventilation plans.
It was found that the roof control and ventilation plan contradicted each other at Crandall Canyon.
Regarding the plan reviews, Owens told the investigators, "I'm lucky to get --- with the diminishing staffing that I've been having over the recent years, I'm lucky just to get plans out in some sort of timely manner without even considering a six month review of a plan." He also stated, "But instead I get memos everyday telling me take your specialist out and do EO-1s, take your specialist out and do initiatives."
The investigators said William Knepp, Assistant Manager for Technical Programs, told them, "We can't do six month reviews anymore. We can't keep up with those."
Note: copies of the 251 page report are available from Mine Safety and Health News.
MSHA Blames Both Mine Operator and Engineering Contractor In Crandall Canyon Tragedy
Genwal Resources, Inc., whose parent company is Murray Energy, last year concealed two significant rock bursts from MSHA and downplayed a third, contributing to the two later catastrophic bursts that claimed nine lives last August 6 and August 16 at its Crandall Canyon Mine in Emery County, Utah - so MSHA acting director Richard Stickler and investigators charged this afternoon.
The reporting omissions "deprived MSHA of the information that we need" to review roof control plans effectively, Stickler said. The failures were among 21 alleged violations cited by agency investigators, officials said, 10 of them rated contributory to the fatal accident.
MSHA officials discussed the outcome of their investigation at a news conference in Price, Utah, this afternoon with additional news media connected by telephone. The news event followed a briefing for the victims' families. The actual investigation report, citation details, official statements and supplementary materials were not immediately available.Nine contributory citations were addressed to the mine operator and one to its engineering consultant Agapito Associates, Inc., which made recommendations concerning the mine's roof control plan, officials announced. "We will be issuing those to the mine operator and contractor today," said chief MSHA investigator Richard Gates.
Officials said the agency simultaneously was proposing penalties totaling $1,636,664, which Stickler described as the highest dollar penalty in any coal mining accident and the second highest in any accident industry-wide. In addition, Stickler said, "We will be having a meeting with the U.S. Attorney...as soon as we can get a meeting scheduled" to share information. Any decision on possible criminal prosecution rests with the U.S. Attorney's office, however, he emphasized.
Stickler soundly rejected an earlier company theory that a natural event caused the August 6 accident, which entombed six miners. "It was not a naturally occurring earthquake," Stickler said. "...[C]oal pillars failed under...excessive load."
Several alleged violations constituted unwarrantable failures, said Gates. Among those mentioned by Gates: failure immediately to report the three earlier outbursts, allegedly violating SS50.10; failure to propose revisions in the roof control plan when these outbursts showed that the current plan was inadequate, allegedly violating SS75.223(a); violating the approved roof control plan by mining pillars where this was prohibited, an alleged violation of SS75.220(a)(1); and using a mining method that exposed persons to hazards, an alleged violation of SS75.203(a).
The August 16 outburst, which killed three rescue workers, was due to the same causes as the original failure, officials said, though it affected a smaller area. Both events were followed by inrushes of oxygen-deficient air that surrounded miners in the area, they said.
"The mine operator's mine design" was "inadequate," Stickler said. It "incorporated...flawed" recommendations from Agapito, which had "failed to recommend a safe plan," he stated. The mine operator was removing the last possible coal from barrier pillars that had provided support on each side of the main entries, after more than 20 longwall panels had already been completed.
Three separate types of engineering analyses on the roof control plan concluded that the mine was "well below NIOSH stability factors," a decidedly unsafe and unstable situation in the making," and "primed for a massive collapse," according to MSHA. The Agapito analysis allegedly used "overly optimistic" assumptions, "incorrect parameters" different from those the firm itself indicated it used, and did not consider all relevant factors, according to MSHA.
Concerning MSHA's approval of a faulty plan, Stickler said that the agency has since conducted more training for its own personnel, issued additional guidance, and is now requiring review of more roof control plans by its Technical Support engineering specialists. He indicated that District 9 staff had tried to step up oversight of the unusual plan by approving the plan only in stages and added, "Our people had a high degree of confidence in the work that Agapito had done over many years."
Genwal failed entirely to report MSHA a March 7 outburst during retreat mining in the North barrier pillar, and did not report immediately or give the agency the full story on a second such outburst on March 10, officials said, even though both were required to be reported based on mining interruptions lasting over one hour. The company then abandoned mining operations in the North pillar and moved into the South pillar area, the accident site, changing the mining plan but not, according to MSHA, doing enough to achieve adequate protection. Interoffice communications between the mine site, Genwal headquarters in Utah, and Ohio parent company Murray Energy, as describe by Gates, indicated discussions within the company about the advisability of proceeding, on August 6, three days before the massive collapse, investigators said Genwal failed to report an outburst in the South barrier pillar area that half-buried a miner in coal, which was another reportable case under the regulations. The miner emerged uninjured.
In the event, Genwal also failed to follow its MSHA-approved plan in the South barrier pillar and mined into several pillars that were supposed to be left in place, the investigators concluded. MSHA required these pillars to be left in a place where the mine workings had an irregularity, in order to keep the area safe for mine examiners.
Regarding MSHA's decision to press on with the rescue operation in the face of continuing coal outbursts, Sticker acknowledged that "there was no way to know or measure how much force would be generated" on the support system installed during the rescue effort. "No viable excavation system existed...other than what was being used," Stickler said, and those involved believed it was working.
An independent report contracted by the Department of Labor on MSHA's activities in relation to Crandall Canyon remains pending, he also said.
Stickler added that the federal agency is planning to beef up its Mine Emergency Responsiveness Development training, which uses role playing to help managers practice for emergencies; is seeking new seismic listening technology for use in underground emergencies; and has concluded that there should be a "clear separation" between persons conducting a rescue operation and those briefing the family members and media. Progress also is continuing towards development wireless tracking and communication systems for underground miners, he said.
U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, issued the following statement today in response to MSHA's report:
"MSHA's report affirms the conclusions reached by our own investigation: Murray Energy should not have proposed the flawed retreat mining plan and MSHA should not have approved the plan. It is clear that Murray Energy is an outlaw company that recklessly endangered its employees' lives. It is tragic that the deaths of six miners and three rescuers resulted from the reckless actions of a few individuals and inadequate MSHA oversight. Especially troubling is MSHA's conclusion that Murray Energy misled MSHA regarding bumps that occurred in March 2007. "In April of this year, I asked the Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation into this very subject. The April referral was supported by significant evidence committee staff uncovered as they reviewed hundreds of thousands of documents, interviewed many witnesses, and deposed several individuals involved. I am confident that MSHA's additional evidence in support of our criminal referral will provide further assistance to the Department of Justice in aggressively pursuing this criminal matter," Miller said.