Sunday, September 30, 2007

Crandall Canyon miner profiles

Crandall Canyon miner profilesSalt Lake Tribune - United StatesSeptember 30, 2007


A 58-year-old Cleveland, Utah, native who has worked in the mines for about 25 years. The father of three enjoyed playing the guitar, singing and tinkering with automobiles.

A Helper resident who worked for 12 years as a wrecker driver and manager for Helper Auto Sales before seeking better benefits. He enjoyed hunting, Jeeps and campfire cooking.

23-year-old immigrant from the town of Costa Rica in Sinaloa, Mexico. He has worked at Crandall Canyon since early this summer and has a 1-year-old daughter.

A 22-year-old immigrant from the town of Pericos in Sinaloa, Mexico. He is described as a quiet, hard-working miner who simply earned his wage and returned home each night.

A 24-year-old Orangeville native who had worked at the Crandall Canyon mine for just three weeks. His uncle was among 27 miners who died in the Wilberg mine fire in 1984.

A veteran miner and father of four from Price. He earned the respect through his self-deprecating humor and ability to "keep things light" under duress.


A 48-year-old miner from Huntington, the man friends called "Bird" is remembered as an outdoorsman and section boss who spent 11 days in the rescue effort.

A 29-year-old miner from Price who loved his job, Kimber leaves 4-year-old twin boys and a daughter, 5.

An accident investigator for MSHA, "Gibb," 53, worked in mining for 34 years, including as safety manager at the Sufco Mine in Salina Canyon.

Little Improvement Two Years After Sago

Little Improvement Two Years After Sago
Wheeling Intelligencer - Wheeling,WV,
September 30, 2007

WHEELING — When it comes to new coal mine safety regulations, the state of West Virginia and the federal government may not be on the same page.
It’s been nearly two years since the Sago mine tragedy, and there has been little improvement in underground mine communications. State government officials in Charleston are pushing to have a Legislature-mandated miner tracking program in place by late 2008 while the feds are aiming for June 15, 2009, to implement regulations that may or may not be more stringent than those in West Virginia.
At issue, according to West Virginia Coal Association Senior Vice President Chris Hamilton, is whether Mountain State coal operators will have to comply with the state regulations in addition to the yet-to-be-defined federal rules. If they are, it could cost mine operators millions of additional dollars.
“West Virginia took a lead role in pushing legislation toward enhanced communication systems but may ultimately be penalized,” Hamilton said.
Spurred by the Jan. 19, 2006, deadly Sago Mine disaster, Gov. Joe Manchin urged the state Legislature to enact new mine safety regulations and on Feb. 7, 2006, provisions of those regulations were announced.
They included establishment of emergency shelters within 1,000 feet of where miners are working, daily inspection of air supplies, installation of emergency air supplies equal to 30 minutes of walking time, wireless communication and tracking devices capable of two-way communication.
Enforcement by the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training is to tentatively begin by the end of 2008.
At the same time, the federal government initiated the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act of 2006, signed into law on June 15, 2006, by President Bush.
The new federal standards are mandated to be in force by June 2009 under the eye of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration.
In addition to beefed up emergency air supply regulations, the MINER Act calls for a plan of “post accident communication between underground and surface personnel via a wireless, two-way medium, and provide for an electronic tracking system permitting surface personnel to determine the location of any persons trapped underground.”
The original implementation schedule for the state regulations called for mine operators to submit compliance plans by July. That deadline was moved to Sept. 21 after plans sent in by 202 coal operators failed to satisfy the safety criteria.
Terry Farley, an administrator of the West Virginia Office of Miner’s Health, Safety and Training, said all coal operators met the September deadline.
“We will be meeting with mine operators to review and, hopefully, approve the plans,” Farley said. “Within 15 days of final approval, the operators will be required to submit a purchase order with a vendor who will install the communication and tracking systems.”
Farley said the proposals must include a target date for completion.
While the state regulations are based upon current technology, a new federal plan is on hold pending results of a study being conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
Armed with a $10 million emergency Congressional supplemental appropriation grant, NIOSH is conducting research to find the most technologically feasible way to provide two-way wireless communications from the surface with miners trapped underground after a collapse or explosion.
NIOSH spokesman Jeff Kohler said many of today’s communication systems are good for routine daily use but may not work during an explosion event.
Two systems, one called a leaky feeder system and one called a wireless mesh system, are among plans being considered.
Kohler said that with the leaky feeder system, a miner can talk through a hand-held wireless device but the signal is transmitted through a wire that runs throughout the mine. If the trunk wire is severed by an explosion or collapse, the system will fail.
With a wireless mesh system, according to Kohler, the hand-held unit communicates to a series of individual transmission points. If a disaster takes out one or more of the transmission points, the signal is directed to the remaining points.
In addition to being functional, MSHA requires that wireless devices must be “intrinsically safe,” which means the product cannot create enough energy to ignite methane gas.
Kohler said NIOSH is interested in developing technologies that can be added to a state-mandated system that may already be in place.
“The question is,” Kohler said, “will (MSHA) accept what states like West Virginia have enacted?”
Farley said the state plans being considered primarily are leaky feeder systems.
Hamilton said there is no guarantee MSHA will approved the state plan.
“The leaky feeder system depends upon a main trunk line and the wireless mesh system has a chance to heal itself, but the ultimate answer is Through the Earth (TTE) technology,” Hamilton said.
He said TTE technology “is a long way from being perfected for daily use.”
He also explained no single system may be suitable for all mines.
“Because of differences in geology, how deep the mines are and other factors, not all communication systems will work in all mines,” Hamilton said.
The projected cost of the systems will be from $500,000 to $2 million per mine.
Hamilton said it is possible West Virginia mine operators could be forced to have two systems, one which meets state standards and one for federal rules.
“We are hoping West Virginia mines can be grandfathered in under the new federal regulations or that they be declared to be test or pilot projects,” he said.
Hamilton said West Virginia mines are more safe today then they were prior to the Sago disaster.
“We have shored up safety shelters and air chambers and we have 30 additional mine rescue teams trained,” he said. “All miners have gone through extensive mine rescue and emergency procedures.”
According to Hamilton, miners’ safety is not the only benefit associated with wireless communications underground.
“It will improve operations significantly,” he said. “Overall efficiency will be increased with wireless controls on some mining equipment.

Crandall Canyon: Families determined to get 'straight answers'

Crandall Canyon: Families determined to get 'straight answers'

At committees' hearings, families will testify to the miners' sacrifice

By Mike Gorrell and Thomas Burr The Salt Lake Tribune
September 30, 2007

Steve Allred is not exactly sure what he will say Wednesday when he appears before a congressional committee to talk about the deaths of his brother, Kerry, and eight other men last month in the Crandall Canyon mine disaster.
But his general point will be clear: He wants to know why the mine's walls imploded on his brother and five co-workers on Aug. 6, and then again on Aug. 16, killing three more rescuers who were trying to get them out.
And he is adamant about ensuring that their sacrifices are not forgotten.
"I don't know what the hell I'm going to testify on, but I guarantee you there's a whole lot I'd like to see come out of this," said Allred, of Cleveland in Emery County. "Otherwise, all those nine people will have died in vain."
Allred and several other family members of Crandall Canyon victims are expected to testify Wednesday before the House Education and Labor Committee - which also will hear from Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America union.
The House proceeding will come the day after the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will conduct an oversight hearing into the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), with particular emphasis on the agency's role in the Crandall Canyon disaster.
Of the two, the House committee session is likely to be much more poignant. Committee chairman Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., wanted to focus on the families afflicted by last month's tragic events.
"Their perspective is very important," a committee aide said, noting that staff members contacted the family members directly or through their Salt Lake City attorneys, Ed Havas and Colin King.
It was still unclear on Friday precisely which family members will testify and which will just observe.
Sheila Phillips of Orangeville, mother of Brandon Phillips, who had worked at Crandall Canyon only briefly before he was buried in the first catastrophic collapse of the mine's walls, said she intends to bring some of her son's memorabilia and to let representatives know a little more about him as a person.
"I'll tell them he was a good kid getting everything all together," she said. "He was trying his best to get a better job and move out and get on with his life. There was a new Tahoe [truck] he wanted so he got a good paying job."
The thought of appearing before Congress, however, was somewhat intimidating to Phillips, whose brother, Ray Snow, died in the 1984 Wilberg mine disaster.
"I'm going to learn to be a public speaker whether I want to or not," she said.
Cesar Sanchez, whose brother Manuel was one of the six fatally trapped miners, said Friday that job opportunities may preclude him from going to Washington, D.C.
But if he can go, he wants "some straight answers" to questions, feeling unsatisfied with what he heard from MSHA's disaster investigation team in a midweek briefing for family members.
"They were telling us they want to fill the portals on the mine," Sanchez said. "They went in a couple of times and they say they have all they can get. I don't think they got too much."
Allred, similarly, is dismayed by the lack of information available about what is happening.
"I'm upset with the way this [disaster] has been handled," he said. "I've accepted the fact Kerry is gone, but I haven't accepted that more isn't being done. It's very sad. It just seems like it's gone off the books. It's not there any more. I hope they let me ask some questions and make some statements."
The House committee aide said neither mine co-owner Robert Murray nor MSHA officials were invited to Wednesday's session, in part because the committee has not received all of the documents it requested from the agency, Murray Energy Corp. or its subsidiary that operated Crandall Canyon, UtahAmerican Energy Inc.
Miller issued a subpoena last week, demanding internal communications from MSHA and the Labor Department, which countered by calling the action "political grandstanding." The department has turned over more than 10,000 pages since Miller originally requested scores of documents in August.
Tuesday's Senate oversight hearing is titled "Current Mine Safety Disasters: Issues and Challenges" and includes two panels of witnesses.
The first features Kevin Stricklin, MSHA's administrator for coal mine safety; Jeffrey Kohler, associate director for Mine Safety and Health Research in Pittsburgh; and Joseph Osterman, managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board.
On the second panel are Dennis O'Dell, the UMWA's health and safety administrator and a member of the Utah Mine Safety Commission appointed by Huntsman after the disaster; Robert Ferriter, director of the mine safety and health program at Colorado School of Mines; and Bruce Watzman, the National Mining Association's vice president for safety and health.
Mining Association spokesman Luke Popovich said Watzman will tell senators what the mining industry has done in the year since Congress passed the MINER Act following three fatal coal-mining accidents early in 2006.
"We feel it's important to say that we are not sitting on our hands waiting for MSHA or Congress to do something," Popovich said. "We have our plate full right now implementing a very comprehensive law."
Watzman also will encourage Congress not to rush into more regulation because it may not improve miner safety, Popovich added.
This week's congressional hearings are the second and third since the Crandall Canyon disaster. A Senate Appropriations subcommittee conducted a hearing in early September.
Mine co-owner Robert Murray declined to appear at that hearing. Committee chairman Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he may use subpoena power to compel Murray to appear at the next hearing.
Mine disaster hearings
Two congressional committees will address the Crandall Canyon mine disaster in hearings this week:
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will meet at 8 a.m. Tuesday (MDT) in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
The House Education and Labor Committee hearing will take place at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday (MDT) in the Rayburn House Office Building.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Boone mine permit wrangling continues

Boone mine permit wrangling continues

By Ken Ward Jr.Staff writer
HUNTINGTON — Maria Gunnoe has lived most of her life at her family homeplace, at the mouth of Big Branch near Bob White in Boone County.
Gunnoe fished in the streams, played in the creeks and picnicked at family reunions on nearby Cazy Mountain.
The last few years, Gunnoe has lived with flooding and water pollution that she blames on Magnum Coal’s mountaintop removal operation up the hollow.
- advertisement -“It has devastated our property,” Gunnoe told a federal judge Wednesday.
Gunnoe and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition want to block Magnum from continuing to mine. Company officials say they need a new valley fill, or the mine will close. Up to 219 workers could lose their jobs.
On Wednesday, the coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy asked U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers for a temporary restraining order to block the mining.
More than 100 people packed Chambers’ courtroom in Huntington. The group split, with miners on one side of the gallery and environmental activists on the other. More spectators lined the courtroom walls and spilled out into the hallway.
The legal wrangling over Magnum’s Callisto Surface Mine is the most recent skirmish over the enforcement and ramifications of the latest federal court ruling on mountaintop removal.
Environmental groups want to use Chambers’ decision to limit further damage from new mining operations. Coal operators are trying to find ways around the ruling, to continue mining until they can get an appeal decided by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.
On March 23, Chambers concluded that the federal Army Corps of Engineers had not fully evaluated the potential environmental damage before approving four other strip-mining permits. Chambers noted an “alarming cumulative stream loss” to valley fills. The judge said the corps “does not explain how the cumulative destruction of headwater streams already affected by mining in these watersheds will not contribute to an adverse impact on aquatic resources.”
Three weeks later, though, Chambers allowed Massey Energy to continue to dump waste rock and dirt into streams at three of those mines, because the company had already started operations there. Earlier this month, Massey asked Chambers to also allow operations to resume at the fourth mine covered by the judge’s original ruling.
In a related case before U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin, environmental groups in May dropped a challenge to another Magnum permit after learning that the company had already buried part of the stream involved.
In the Callisto Mine situation, Magnum officials had originally said they would not move into any new valley fills until after an appeal of Chambers’ March ruling was decided.
Two weeks ago, Magnum lawyer Richard Verheji told environmental groups that they planned to move forward sooner on at least one valley fill.
The fill in question would bury 2,435 feet of a stream called Dry Branch, court records show.
Magnum official Mike Day testified Wednesday that the mine has run out of coal reserves and room to dump mining waste on other parts of its operations.
The company needs to start preparing the new valley fill area in two to three weeks, Day said, or nearly 40 workers would lose their jobs in about two months.
Day said the new valley fill would give the company space and reserves to operate for a year to 18 months.
Without the new valley fill, the company could also end up shutting down an associated underground mine and coal preparation plant, Day said. In all, 219 jobs are at risk, he said.
“These people and their families depend on these jobs to support their families and educate their children,” Day told Chambers.
Legally, judges in such cases must undertake a “balance-of-hardship” test. Chambers is supposed to weigh potential environmental damage from continued mining against harm to the company if mining is blocked.
Bob McLusky, a lawyer for Magnum, said Day testified that state inspectors concluded the mining operation did not cause the flooding in Gunnoe’s community. Given that, McLusky said, any claim of harm from future mining is “speculative.”
“The real harm is to the jobs of these folks here,” McLusky said, pointing to the miners in the courtroom.
Corps lawyers sided with the company in court papers. The government added that a ruling to block the Callisto Mine “would impede energy production by eliminating nearly 13 million tons of low-sulfur content coal that would otherwise help satisfy the nation’s growing energy needs.”
Joe Lovett, one of the environmental group lawyers, argued that potential economic harm would be only temporary. The company could always come back and mine the area later if it wins an appeal, Lovett said.
“The costs of delays in mining operations are ‘purely economic harms’ that cannot outweigh the irreparable harm from the filling of streams,” Lovett wrote in court papers. “When the valley is filled, it can’t be undone.”
Chambers did not immediately rule. The judge told the parties they could file more briefs next week, and he would rule the week after that.

Former union official sentenced

Former union official sentenced

Thursday, September 27, 2007

BENTON - A former local Boilermakers union official was sentenced tothree years of probation and fines in federal court for embezzlingmoney from his union local.Jeff Klope, Harrisburg, must also pay $100 in fines and a $100special assessment as part of the plea agreement, which wasfinalized with a formal guilty plea Sept. 20 in Benton Federal Court.Between October 2002 and April 2005, Klope took $25,794 from theunion while he was secretary-treasurer of Local S-8, whichrepresents miners at Willow Lake Mine. Court documents indicate theembezzlement was committed through writing of unauthorized checks,forgery and falsification of records to conceal the crimes.Klope confessed to his actions after an investigation by theDepartment of Labor, Office of Labor Management Standards.Klope took funds in several ways. The union voted years ago to awardattendance prizes at each meeting. Whoever's number was drawn wouldwin a $295 prize. Klope was supposed to write checks for theattendance prizes and give them to the local president, whopresented them to the winners. Klope wrote himself 13 unauthorizedchecks between Oct. 19, 2002 and July 22, 2004 totaling $3,789 byentering the names of other members as attendance prize winners onthe check stubs to conceal the payment to himself, according tocourt documents.Klope stole $5,324 by writing checks to himself that were intendedfor reimbursing members who lost wages or overtime while conductingunion business. Klope issued 42 unauthorized checks to himselfbetween Dec. 10, 2002 and Feb. 24, 2005 by writing union members orofficers in the payee line on the check stub, while making the checkout to himself, according to court documents.Klope wrote himself seven unauthorized checks with false checkbookentries that say he used $2,821 to purchase bibles.Klope also wrote $1,564 in false checks with "IRS" in the payeeline; $2,155 in checks falsified to show reimbursed "DC meals," anapparent travel expense; and $8,647 in checks to himself thatinvolved falsified check stub records to make the payment looklegitimate.Klope repaid $5,800 to the union in April 2005 before resigning,according to court documents. He also met with union President Forton May 22, 2006 and apologized for taking the union's money. Hepromised to make restitution, according to court documents. Klopegave Fort a check for $1,026 to cover costs associated with gettingrecords from the bank, court documents indicate.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Utah Mine Country, After Disaster

Utah Mine Country, After Disaster,
Tells Panel It Fears Overregulation

With quiet voices, theirwords sometimes husky with emotion, residents of Utahcoal country told a state panel on Tuesday that theyfeared the mines would be overwhelmed by new safetyrules after a fatal accident last month."We've got the right laws in place right now that Ithink can take care of safety," Brad Timothy, alongtime miner, said.Mr. Timothy and 30 others gathered at the HuntingtonElementary School gymnasium for the second hearing ofthe new Mine Safety Commission.Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. formed the panel to investigatethe state's role in mine safety after the fatalcollapse at the Crandall Canyon Mine near here killedsix miners and three rescue workers.Mr. Huntsman and commission members have suggestedthat Utah should be more active in regulating its 13coal mines. They are now overseen by just the FederalMine Safety and Health Administration.Miners at the hearing viewed the commission withsuspicion, and panel members spent considerable timereassuring residents that the state was not bent onclosing the mines."We are not going to make more rules," said MayorHilary Gordon of Huntington, a member of thecommission. "We want to keep the mining industrystrong."Nearly two months after the Crandall Canyon collapse,the main street of this tiny town is quiet, no longerflooded with news media, government vehicles andmakeshift memorials. The lone sign that somethingterrible once occurred is a poster at a gasolinestation saying, "We will never forget."Without hesitation, just about all of those inattendance said more mine regulation would ruin theirlivelihoods."I don't want to see their jobs go down the drain,"said Lee Cratsenburg, 59, who worked for 19 years inmines. "I think the safety regulations should beleft."Ms. Cratsenburg' s brother Dale Black was one of therescue workers killed at Crandall Canyon. She said ifexisting regulations had been met there, "I don'tthink the lives would have been lost."A panel member, Dennis O'Dell, a mine safety officialfor the United Mine Workers of America, disputed thenotion that the state did not have a role. He saidthat Utah should consider supplementing the federalinspections, that there was a national shortage offederal safety specialists and that the agency hadfallen behind on inspections."A large number of mines are not getting theinspections, " Mr. O'Dell said. "In some cases,M.S.H.A.'s falling behind are affecting the health andsafety of the miners. The state might be able to playsome role to help."Gary D. Kofford, an Emery County commissioner, warnedthat any actions the commission took would affect thelocal economy."Let us do our jobs," Mr. Kofford said. "Don't shutany more mines down. Don't interfere."Industry officials were also hesitant to endorse aseparate state regulatory system, saying the federalagency already conducted frequent and aggressiveinspections that kept mines safe."I don't think anyone on this commission understandshow many inspections M.S.H.A. does," said Ray Bridge,a safety manager for the Dugout Canyon Mine nearPrice. "In our opinion, they do a very thorough job."Mr. Bridge said his mine was subject to nearlyconstant inspections that looked into all aspects ofthe mine, including safety, noise levels andelectrical equipment. He said a total of 245 federalinspectors had inspected Dugout Canyon throughout thisyear.The prevailing sentiment was that nothing could haveprevented the Crandall Canyon disaster and that anystate intervention might worsen problems."This event was an anomaly and could not have beenpredicted," said Joe Fielder, a longtime minerinvolved in the Crandall Canyon rescue effort. "Thisdisaster was not the result of poor training orimproper mine procedures."On a break from the hearing, Mr. O'Dell wandered overto a corner of the gymnasium. A coal miner, heconceded that he was frustrated with the sense thatthe local mines were in jeopardy and calledaccusations that the mines were already overregulatedpreposterous."The most precious resource in the mines," he told thepanel, "is the miner, not the coal."

Arch Coal miners appear in Dodge ad

Arch Coal miners appear in Dodge ad

Wednesday September 26,2007

An Arch Coal Inc. subsidiary's mine and several of its employees are featured in the new Dodge Ram 2500 commercials that are now appearing on TV, according to an Arch Coal spokesperson.

Several of the workers at Canyon Fuel Co.'s Skyline mine, located near Scofield, Utah, filmed the 30- and 60-second ads called "Make the Most of Every Mile" in August. The spots depict Skyline employees using the Dodge Ram truck in various capacities in and around the mine portal and stockpile areas.

Dodge is Chrysler LLC's best-selling brand and the fifth largest nameplate in the U.S. automotive market with a U.S. market share of 6.5 percent.

St. Louis-based Arch Coal Inc. (NYSE: ACI - News) is one of the largest coal producers in the country, providing the fuel for about 6 percent of the electricity generated in the United States.

Huntsman wants feds to share Crandall Canyon Mine data

Huntsman wants feds to share Crandall Canyon Mine data

By Lisa Riley Roche
Deseret Morning News
September 28, 2007

When Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. testifies before Congress next week, along with family members of the miners killed at the Crandall Canyon Mine, he'll ask again for the federal government to share information on its investigation into the disaster.
"I'm concerned," the governor said during his monthly press conference on KUED Channel 7 Thursday, the day after he was notified the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration would be withholding information from the state's new mine safety commission.
He said he'll bring up the issue with members of the House Education and Labor Committee when he testifies next Wednesday. The hearing on "the perspective of the families at Crandall Canyon" also will include testimony from miners' relatives.
Huntsman created the commission in the wake of the Aug. 6 mine collapse, near Huntington in Emery County, that left six miners dead and later claimed the lives of three rescuers. Six other rescuers were injured in the second accident, on Aug. 16.
The commission, charged with recommending what, if any, role the state should have in regulating mine safety, sought to review information collected in the ongoing federal investigation.
But in a letter sent to the governor and the commission chairman, Scott Matheson Jr., the U.S. Department of Labor expressed "grave concerns" about making that information available because a trade association representative serves on the commission.
That could jeopardize the federal government's investigation into the incident because the association represents Crandall Canyon Mine owner Robert Murray, according to the letter written by Jonathan Snare, the Labor Department's acting solicitor.
Huntsman said Thursday he saw no need to remove the association representative he named to the commission, Utah Mining Association President David Litvin.
"I don't think we're going to have to go that far. I don't think that's necessarily a material point here," the governor said. "Whenever you have a working group, it's important to achieve a balance."
Huntsman had already said he'd received assurances from Richard Stickler, the assistant secretary of labor in charge of MSHA, that the information collected by federal investigators would be made available to the commission.
"I think there ought to be a much closer working relationship between MSHA and our state mine safety commission," the governor said. "That isn't working for whatever reason and that's against certain assurances I've had early on that we would be working collaboratively."
The governor said he understands some information may need to be "compartmentalized for reasons that are based on a criminal investigation or something that would otherwise be highly sensitive."
But, he said, his commission still needs to receive "real time briefings" on the investigation.
Next Wednesday's hearing will be the first before a House committee. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee also has a hearing on the mine accident planned for Tuesday, when it will hear from Stickler and other witnesses.
A Senate Appropriations Subcommittee heard from Stickler about the mine collapse on Sept. 5, and the committee did not rule out issuing a subpoena to Murray, the mine owner and Murray Energy chief, if he failed to address Congress.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Va. court refuses to review Massey defamation case

Va. court refuses to review Massey defamation case

The Virginia Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal in a defamation case brought by Massey Energy President Don Blankenship against the United Mine Workers and The Charleston Gazette. A Fairfax County circuit judge had dismissed the suit in June 2006, ruling that Massey and Blankenship failed to allege a valid claim. Massey Energy sued the UMW in the same lawsuit. Massey and Blankenship asked the Virginia Supreme Court to review the circuit judge’s dismissal, but the high court declined, saying it found no “reversible error” in the judge’s ruling. In his 2005 lawsuit, Blankenship alleged the union and West Virginia’s largest newspaper had conspired to defame him in 2004 with articles regarding the layoff of 250 miners from operations bought by Massey after the bankruptcy of Horizon Natural Resources Co. “This lawsuit should never have been brought in the first place. We are glad that the courts agreed with the newspaper and that the litigation is now over,” said Elizabeth E. Chilton, publisher of the Gazette. UMW President Cecil Roberts said, “Don Blankenship wielded untold thousands of dollars to pursue this frivolous lawsuit in his attempt to intimidate our union and to silence dissent. As we anticipated and the justice system confirmed, these tactics have no place in American society.” Massey Energy has a policy of not responding to questions from Charleston Gazette reporters. Blankenship said he didn’t have an immediate comment on the high court’s action. “I haven’t seen the decision yet, so I don’t know exactly what the status is. I’ll have to talk to the lawyers.”

Kanawha circuit court sides with Massey on Marsh Fork

Kanawha circuit court sides with Massey on Marsh Fork

By Ken Ward Jr.Staff writer

A Kanawha Circuit judge has upheld a decision that allows Massey Energy’s Goals Coal Co. subsidiary to build a new coal silo at its operation near Marsh Fork Elementary School at Sundial in Raleigh County.Judge Duke Bloom agreed with the state Surface Mine Board that the Department of Environmental Protection was wrong to deny Goals Coal’s permit application for the new silo
.DEP Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer had appealed the board’s decision, as had the citizen group Coal River Mountain Watch.The DEP and Massey began battling over the silo in July 2005, when agency officials revoked a permit for the second of two coal silos Massey proposed for the operation near Marsh Fork Elementary.
The DEP acted after the Gazette revealed the silo was proposed to be built outside the permit area shown on site maps submitted by company engineers.The case before Bloom focused on the DEP’s interpretation that construction of the silo would violate a prohibition on new surface mining operations within a 300-foot protected area around the school. In March, the mine board threw out the DEP decision, ruling the agency interpretation meant that “even the slightest modification” of a mining operation is prohibited if it is within 300 feet of a school.In a 21-page decision, Bloom noted that Goals Coal and previous owners had used the Sundial site as a coal processing and loadout facility since the late 1970s. Mining operations which existed when the federal strip mine law was passed in 1977 were exempt from the 300-foot buffer zone, the judge noted.Bloom ruled that the DEP’s decision that the new silo would constitute new mining operations not exempt from the buffer zone was a “recently derived litigation position” and therefore not entitled to deference from the court.“DEP has pointed to no instance in which it has ever construed the existing operations provision to limit future mining in the protected zones to certain specific activities,”
Bloom wrote.Bloom added that the DEP previously applied the existing operations exemption to allow both of the silos proposed by Massey.“DEP’s permit supervisor advised the DEP Director that limiting the existing operation provision to precisely the same activities that historically occurred in a permitted area was contrary to DEP’s long-standing policy,” Bloom wrote.Bloom also ruled against Coal River Mountain Watch. He upheld a mine board ruling that the actual permit boundaries are governed by both on-the-ground markers and outlines shown on company maps. Coal River Mountain Watch had argued that map boundaries were controlling.Massey President Don Blankenship said “...Given the concern that this case generated in the community, we will not construct the silo until we have met with the governor’s office and with officials from Marsh Fork Elementary School.“Our objective will be to get their input and to better explain the environmental benefits of the silo,” Blankenship stated.Jessica Greathouse, spokeswoman for the DEP, said she was not aware of the court decision. To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.

King Coal Highway, school site coming along

King Coal Highway, school site coming along

Williamson Daily News
Wednesday, September 26, 2007 3:32 PM CDT

RED JACKET - Six to eight miles of the Mingo County section of the King Coal Highway is now rough grade and on Tuesday area citizens, along with local, state and federal officials and representatives of the Virginia Department of Transportation were able to travel this portion of highway.
Because of the uniqueness of the private/public partnership of bringing the roadway into existence, this project is receiving national attention and media coverage. Once completed, the 11.2 mile stretch of highway will come at a cost savings of approximately $170 million to county taxpayers.
Local and state school board officials were also able to see up close the 75-acre section which is being donated for the proposed consolidated high school.
Mike Castle told the school board officials that the entire cost for site preparation for the 75 acres was being absorbed by Alpha Natural Resources.
“The school site is 85 percent completed as far as materials being moved,” Castle said.
Before the invitation-only tour began, guests were given a brief history on how construction of the roadway came into being. The tour was touted as the King Coal Highway success story.
Mike Whitt, executive director of the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority, explained that after the Mingo County Land Use Master Plan was developed in and around existing proposed four-lane highways, he realized that Premium Energy, which was owned by Don Nicewonder at the time, was mining in the Twisted Gun Gap area. This area was designated as a site for the King Coal Highway.
Whitt said he went to Nicewonder and asked if, while mining the area, he could leave a rough grade for the road which would save the county millions of dollars.
“Mr. Nicewonder told me that the equipment does not have a brain, it will do exactly what we tell it to do,” Whitt told the Daily News. “He said if I could get all the red tape taken care of, he would leave a road bed and development sites wherever I wanted but he didn't have the time to work through the red tape to do that.”
Whitt said he then met with all the state and federal highway offi
cials and after that, a meeting was set up with representatives of the regulatory state and federal agencies.
“Each group said they thought it made sense and after about a year of meetings to get everyone on the same page, we met in Charleston with DOH Secretary Fred VanKirk where everyone agreed to do their part to make this project happen.”
At the time, Whitt said Paul Maddox was employed with E.L. Robinson Engineering who helped draft the Land Use Master Plan. Maddox now serves as DOH secretary.
An overview of the project which started in October 2004 was given by Greg Blankenship.
He said three years into the venture Alpha Natural Resources, which is headquartered in Abingdon, Va., has moved approximately 34 million of the 60 million cubic yards of dirt to make way for the highway.
“This is no longer the proposed King Coal Highway - part of it is here today,” Blankenship said. “Once the road bed is completed, it will be donated to the state highway department.”
Maddox, in expressing his pride in being a part of the success story,. commended Whitt and Nicewonder, former owner of Nicewonder Construction Inc., for their vision of putting the highway plan together.
“Theirs was an innovative way of making the highway a reality and I'm anxiously waiting to see the progress being made,” Maddox told those in attendance.
Tom Smith of the federal highway Administration described Mingo County as one of his favorite places to visit.
“This partnership venture gets great press outside of West Virginia,” Smith said.
“It has the three Ps which I believe are needed: partnership, potential that it brings to southern West Virginia and perseverance of staying on details and continuing to work the details.”
The federal highway administration views the benefits and approach being used to cut cost, Smith continued.
“This includes the schedule and development of land for local use, the environmental benefit and ways of making highway construction work with mining coal,” Smith said.
“This project is recognized nationally, the permitting process is unique, the field construction has saved money.
“This is one of the greatest projects I have worked on in my career.”
Department of Environmental representative Randy Hoffman spoke of the regulatory changes which have evolved because of this project.
“Environmental regulators are evolving into being open-minded and creatively thinking,” Smith said.
“The Corps of Engineers has been able to put together road projects with the mining industry and coal companies have chosen to give back to their communities because this is the right thing to do.
“This road would not have been built except through this measure and I want to drive across it before I die.”
Although Don Nicewonder was credited with being a key player in the venture, he told the crowd that he may have had the vision but his sons, Kenny and Kevin, along with many others helped to carry it out.
The smooth transition to keep everything going after Nicewonder sold his company to Alpha Natural Resources was also praised.
During the driving tour, Mike Castle answered the many questions asked by those who traveled the highway.
Officials of the Virginia Department of Transportation said they hope to accomplish something similar to this in their state, involving the Coalfield Expressway.
The entire 11.2 mile section is expected to be ready to turn over to the state DOH by 2012.

King Coal Highway bridge building begins

King Coal Highway bridge building begins

Bridge building begins
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Dirt is finally moving on the new $16.3 million King Coal Highway bridge project in Bluefield.
The contractor is now performing excavation work at the site on Route 19 near Stoney Ridge, Phillip White, a construction engineer with the Division of Highways District 10 office in Bluefield, said.
White said a utility pole that was blocking the bridge construction has been relocated.
“Everything is gone,” White said. “All of the utilities have been relocated. The contractor is underway. He’s excavating for pier one. Pier one is on the northside. It is adjacent to Mercer County Route 25. He has started. That’s the first item of work for him.”
Ahern and Associates of South Charleston was awarded the $16.3 million contract in June and received a notice to proceed on July 10. Although state officials were originally targeting mid-August for the actual start of construction, the discovery of a utility pole along the construction path delayed the actual construction start.
Mike Mitchem, executive director of the King Coal Highway Authority, said the news is welcomed.
“That’s great news,” Mitchem said. “This is another positive development in our road progress. We are looking forward to the day we can be all the way out toward Route 123. We are really thankful for the funding that is coming through Sen. Byrd, Congressman Rahall and Sen. Rockefeller for our project.”
White said the construction is expected to continue through the winter.
“Generally, they can work on those (the piers) through the fall and into the winter unless it is drastically cold,” White said. “They have ways to heat the concrete. So work through the winter is always possible.”
When completed, the twin bridges will extend about 160 feet above Route 19 taking the King Coal Highway from the K.A. Ammar Interchange in Bluefield toward Stoney Ridge. The bridge construction won’t be completed until 2009.
White said traffic delays aren’t immediately expected along Route 19. However, he said the contractor is working with Norfolk Southern in preparation of a pier excavation work near the railroad.
When completed, the King Coal Highway will travel 95 miles through Mingo, Wayne, Wyoming, McDowell and Mercer counties with the Tolsia segment from Williamson to Huntington extending another 55 miles. It will interchange with the Coalfields Expressway in Welch near the Indian Ridge Industrial Park and the site of the new federal prison. The King Coal and Tolsia Highways represent the West Virginia corridors of Interstate 73/74.

Lawmaker wants longer jail time for self-rescuer thieves

Lawmaker wants longer jail time for self-rescuer thieves

September 26, 2007

Alarmed by the rash of self-rescuer thefts in West Virginia’s mines, and shuddering at what thieves could have in mind besides peddling them at cheap prices — perhaps even to terrorists — a southern lawmaker says it’s time to prescribe longer prison stretches for those caught and convicted.
When lawmakers return in January to open the 2008 session, Delegate Virginia Mahan, D-Summers, is ready to offer a bill seeking enhanced felony penalties for such persons.
“I got so mad at this one incident in Logan County,” Mahan said Wednesday in a telephone interview from her Green Sulphur Springs home.
Mahan spoke of an attempt this month to make off with eight emergency air packs used to keep coal miners alive when they’re trapped underground. A suspect sought by police is said to have started a multi-ton vehicle, taped the controls and sent it some 3,000 feet rolling down the tracks where it smashed into a second vehicle.
Ron Wooten, director of the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, said it appeared to a matter of attempting to destroy property and hurt someone at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine, owned by Massey Energy.
“Obviously, this has been going on, especially since we stepped up the process of getting breathing units into the mines. This is just crazy. It’s beyond comprehension.”
Right now, the act of stealing something worth at least $1,000 can net a thief a prison sentence of one to 10 years. Mahan’s proposal would double that.
Already, she has the strong backing of House Judiciary Chair Carrie Webster, D-Kanawha. Mahan has been a longtime member of the judiciary panel.
“She’s excited about it,” Mahan said. “She’s been thinking about this herself.”
Selling stolen self-rescuers on the black market is one goal thieves possibly have in mind, Mahan said, but there are others as well.
“I imagine all sorts of horrible bad uses they would be used for,” she said.
“Do they provide cover for certain types of criminals to be used in the commission of another crime? Something involved in gas or chemical agents? Or in an act of terrorism? The possibilities are limitless as far as the inventiveness as these crooks are going out to steal somebody else’s life-saving property.”
Mahan isn’t sure just how many such thefts have occurred to date, “but I’m hearing little stories from around the state.”
Since lawmakers have insisted the industry put safety above anything else, Mahan pointed out that leaders have said it has been difficult to acquire the number of self-rescuers updated law mandates. New safety requirements followed the 2006 explosion that killed a dozen miners at the Sago Mine in Upshur County, where the lack of oxygen devices was a factor.
“These criminals are not just stealing equipment,” Mahan said. “They are stealing the hope of miners and their families that, in the face of disaster, there can be survival.”

Alabama city reopening fallout shelters

Alabama city reopening fallout shelters Plans include using the Three Caves Quarry

San Jose Mercury News - CA, USABy JAY REEVES Associated Press WriterSeptember 27, 2007
HUNTSVILLE, Ala.—In an age of al-Qaida, sleeper cells and the threat of nuclear terrorism, Huntsville is dusting off its Cold War manual to create the nation's most ambitious fallout-shelter plan, featuring an abandoned mine big enough for 20,000 people to take cover underground. Others would hunker down in college dorms, churches, libraries and research halls that planners hope will bring the community's shelter capacity to 300,000, or space for every man, woman and child in Huntsville and the surrounding county.
Emergency planners in Huntsville—an out-of-the-way city best known as the home of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center—say the idea makes sense because radioactive fallout could be scattered for hundreds of miles if terrorists detonated a nuclear bomb.
"If Huntsville is in the blast zone, there's not much we can do. But if it's just fallout ... shelters would absorb 90 percent of the radiation," said longtime emergency management planner Kirk Paradise, whose Cold War expertise with fallout shelters led local leaders to renew Huntsville's program.
Huntsville's project, developed using $70,000 from a Homeland Security grant, goes against the grain because the United States essentially scrapped its national plan for fallout shelters after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Congress cut off funding and the government published its last list of approved shelters at the end of 1992.
After Sept. 11, Homeland Security created a metropolitan protection program that includes nuclear-attack preparation and mass shelters. But no other city has taken the idea as far as Huntsville has, officials said.
Many cities advise residents to stay at home and seal up a room with plastic and duct tape during a biological, chemical or nuclear attack. Huntsville does too, in certain cases.
Local officials agree the "shelter-in-place" method would be best for a "dirty bomb" that scattered nuclear contamination through conventional explosives. But they say full-fledged shelters would be needed to protect from the fallout of a nuclear bomb.
Program leaders recently briefed members of Congress, including Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., who called the shelter plan an example of the "all-hazards" approach needed for emergency preparedness.
"Al-Qaida, we know, is interested in a nuclear capability. It's our nation's fear that a nuclear weapon could get into terrorists' hands," Dent said.
As fallout shelters go, the Three Caves Quarry just outside downtown offers the kind of protection that would make Dr. Strangelove proud, with space for an arena-size crowd of some 20,000 people.
Last mined in the early '50s, the limestone quarry is dug 300 yards into the side of the mountain, with ceilings as high as 60 feet and 10 acres of floor space covered with jagged rocks. Jet-black in places with a year-round temperature of about 60 degrees, it has a colony of bats living in its highest reaches and baby stalactites hanging from the ceiling.
"It would be a little trying, but it's better than the alternative," said Andy Prewett, a manager with The Land Trust of Huntsville and North Alabama, a nonprofit preservation group that owns the mine and is making it available for free.
In all, the Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency has identified 105 places that can be used as fallout shelters for about 210,000 people. They are still looking for about 50 more shelters that would hold an additional 100,000 people.
While officials have yet to launch a campaign to inform people of the shelters, a local access TV channel showed a video about the program, which also is explained on a county Web site.
If a bomb went off tomorrow, Paradise said, officials would tell people where to find shelter through emergency alerts on TV and radio stations. "We're pretty much ready to go because we have a list of shelters," he said.
Most of the shelters would offer more comfort than the abandoned mine, such as buildings at the University of Alabama in Huntsville that would house 37,643. A single research hall could hold more than 8,100.
Homeland Security spokeswoman Alexandra Kirin said of Huntsville's wide-ranging plan: "We're not aware of any other cities that are doing that."
Plans call for staying inside for as long as two weeks after a bomb blast, though shelters might be needed for only a few hours in a less dire emergency.
Unlike the fallout shelters set up during the Cold War, the new ones will not be stocked with water, food or other supplies. For survivors of a nuclear attack, it would be strictly "BYOE"—bring your own everything. Just throw down a sleeping bag on the courthouse floor—or move some of the rocks on the mine floor—and make yourself at home.
"We do not guarantee them comfort, just protection," said Paradise, who is coordinating the shelter plans for the local emergency management agency.
Convenience store owner Tandi Prince said she cannot imagine living in the cavern after a bombing.
"That would probably not be very fun," she said.

Labor Dept. won’t give newspaper access to mine probe

Labor Dept. won’t give newspaper access to mine probe

Glenwood Springs Post Independent -
Glenwood Springs,CO,USA
September 27, 2007

SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Labor Department denied a newspaper’s request to attend interviews during the government’s investigation of the Crandall Canyon mine disaster.
“Reporters do not sit in crime labs or prosecutors’ offices, so why would the attorneys for The Salt Lake Tribune think this case is any different as an ongoing investigation?” said David Jones, a Labor Department spokesman.
The Tribune pointed to a court ruling following the 1984 Wilberg mine disaster, in which a federal judge said that investigation should be open to the public. An appeals court vacated the ruling but transcripts were released.
Six miners are presumed dead after the Aug. 6 collapse at the Crandall Canyon mine in central Utah, although their bodies have not been recovered. Three people trying to tunnel toward them were killed 10 days later.
“This was a public disaster. It’s important to understand how it happened, why it happened, so it doesn’t happen again,” Tribune editor Nancy Conway said Wednesday.
Public access to the investigation could influence testimony and intimidate witnesses, said Jonathan Snare, a senior attorney at the Labor Department.
Snare also rejected a request by the Utah Mine Safety Commission to participate in the investigation by the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
In a letter to commission Chairman Scott Matheson Jr., he said access could “compromise the integrity of the investigation and potentially jeopardize MSHA’s ability to enforce the law.”

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Peabody Mine Rescue Teams Earn Four Championships at National

Peabody Mine Rescue Teams Earn Four Championships at National - USASeptember 26, 2007
ST. LOUIS, Sept. 26 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ --

Peabody Energy teams earned four of the seven national championship trophies at the U.S. Department of Labor's National Mine Rescue, First Aid, Bench and Preshift Competition in Nashville, Tenn. The bi-annual competition tests the skills of mine rescue and first aid teams in simulated emergencies and enables employees to hone their safety preparedness skills. Nearly 60 teams from 12 states competed, and multiple Peabody teams participated.
"We are proud of our leadership in safety readiness, which is core to our commitment to achieving world-class safety results," said Eric Ford, Peabody's Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. "These honors speak volumes about the caliber of our people and our constant attention to best practices."
Peabody's Southern Appalachia Operations team won first place overall in the combination mine rescue/first aid competition and first place in the mine rescue category, outperforming far more experienced competitors.
The company's Federal No. 2 team from Northern Appalachia took first place in the first aid competition, and Electrician Chuck Harvey of the Twentymile Mine in Colorado won the national BG-4 Benchman competition.
Peabody's state and national award-winners include:
National Mine Rescue Awards
Combination Mine Rescue/First Aid
Southern Appalachia, 1st Place
Mine Rescue
Southern Appalachia, 1st Place
First Aid
Federal No. 2, 1st PlaceSouthern Appalachia, 3rd Place
Benchman BG-4
Chuck Harvey, Twentymile Mine, 1st PlaceMark Beauchamp, Twentymile Mine, 3rd Place
1st Place State Awards
West Virginia Combination Mine Rescue/First Aid
Southern Appalachia Operations Team
Illinois Mine Rescue
Willow Lake Mine Team
Kentucky Biomarine
Mark Lloyd, Bluegrass Team
West Virginia Mine Rescue
Southern Appalachia Operations Team
West Virginia Benchman BG-174A
Harry McGinnis, Federal No. 2 Team
West Virginia First Aid
Federal No. 2 Team
Peabody Energy is the world's largest private-sector coal company, with 2006 sales of 248 million tons of coal and $5.3 billion in revenues. Its coal products fuel approximately 10 percent of all U.S. electricity generation and more than 2 percent of worldwide electricity.
CONTACTDerrell Carter(314) 342-7667

Saturday service will recall Darr Mine disaster of 1907

Saturday service will recall Darr Mine disaster of 1907
Monessen Valley Independent - Monessen,PA,USA
By Emma Jene Lelik
September 26, 2007
One-hundred years ago history was made in Rostraver Township.
It wasn't a happy event.
Two-hundred thirty-nine men and boys perished when the Darr Mine exploded. It was reported there was only one survivor.
This was the worst mine disaster in Pennsylvania.
Most of those killed in the explosion were Hungarian immigrant laborers and, due to that fact, six Hungarian organizations are sponsoring a commemoration of the event on Saturday.
All interested persons are invited to gather at Olive Branch Baptist Church and Cemetery, located along State Route 981 in Van Meter, for a program of remembrance at 11 a.m.
There will be a wreath laying ceremony at the grave site in Olive Branch Cemetery where 71 Darr miners, 49 of whom are unknown, are buried in a common grave.
Remarks by representatives of the sponsoring organizations will be made. They are: American Hungarian Federation, Bethlen Communities (Ligonier), Calvin Synod of the United Church of Christ, Hungarian Reformed Federation of America, Hungarian Reformed Church of America and William Penn Association.
The American and Hungarian national anthems will be sung and Hungarian-American children will read the names of the deceased miners.
Mary Lou Magiske, corresponding secretary of the Rostraver Township Historical Society, said Scott Hamilton has been engaged to play the bagpipes and George Bacsi will offer violin selections.
A luncheon reception at the Holiday Inn in Rostraver Township will follow the program. There is a fee for the luncheon and advance reservations are required. They may be made with Magiske at (724) 872-6102, or with the Rev. Imre Bertalan of Ligonier at (724) 238-2235.
There is no charge to attend the program.
Magiske has a personal interest in remembering mine victims. Her grandfather, Lajos Pecsi, was killed in the Peters Creek Mine in 1909. His survivors included two sons, ages 2 and 4, the latter becoming Magiske's father.
Joe Galayda, of Rostraver, remembers the early days when his father worked in the Somers Mine in Pricedale.
"The mine whistle would blow at 5:30 a.m. to alert miners to awaken and make preparations for the work day," he said. "It would also blow at 9 p.m. as a signal for bedtime and needed rest. But, oh how sad if the whistle blew at other times, meaning there was trouble in the mine."
Fifteen of the Darr victims are buried in St. Timothy Cemetery in Smithton. Five of those miners reportedly came from the same hometown in Hungary.
December 1907 is known as the deadliest month in U.S. mining history. The month began with an explosion inside the Naomi Mine in Fayette City, where 34 miners were killed. Five days later, 362 men perished in an explosion and roof collapses in Monongah, W.Va. On Dec. 16, 57 miners died, many of asphyxiation, in Yolanda, Ala. By the month's end, 3,200 miners had died in accidents.
The Darr Mine explosion occurred on Dec. 19 when, according to the Julian Calender, Greek Catholics and Orthodox observed a major feast day, St. Nicholas, and nearly 200 Darr miners who chose not to go to work that day due to the saint's day, were spared.

Mine rescuers face dark, death with confidence

Mine rescuers face dark, death with confidence

Reuters - USABy Andrea Hopkins

September 26, 2007
SYLVESTER, West Virginia (Reuters) -

Mike Vaught sounds about as comfortable about coal mining as you'd hope a man tasked to rescue others from deep within the earth would be.
"I feel as confident underground as I do sitting in my living room," said Vaught, who, at age 31, already has nine years under his belt as a West Virginia coal miner.
Vaught, part of a 10-member rescue team at Massey Energy's Elk Run coal mine in the U.S. Appalachian Mountains, has also seen the danger of coal mining first hand: he was one of the first rescuers to reach Massey's Aracoma mine in 2006 after a fire broke out underground, trapping two miners.
Two days into the rescue, the men were found dead, having gotten lost trying to escape the fire and run out of oxygen.
"That was heartbreaking. You always have hope until the moment you find them," said Vaught.
The death in August of six Utah coal miners and three rescuers has once again brought the issue of mine rescue front and center in the United States, with regulators proposing new rules for rescue teams like the one Vaught volunteers for.
In September, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration unveiled proposals it said will improve rescue operations at America's 653 underground coal mines by requiring mines to have more rescue teams with better training, quicker responses and better equipment.
At Elk Run, rescue captain Rob Asbury, 37, is wary of knee-jerk reactions to mine tragedies. Under the new rules, his team will be deemed too distant to cover some of the 31 mines it currently helps with because they have to be within one hour from the mine rather than two.
Instead, each mine, however new or tiny, will be required to have its own rescue teams, a move veterans believe will result in less-experienced teams with more turnover.
Asbury said he couldn't bear to watch much of the round-the-clock television coverage of the Utah rescue effort -- but not because it hit too close to home.
"It kind of gets aggravating because you hear people giving opinions that they really don't know what they're talking about. I don't watch a lot of it," said Asbury, whose brother, father and both grandfathers have also been coal miners.
The new rules will increase training to 64 hours a year from 40 and require teams to participate in two local mine rescue contests each year.
The volunteers on Asbury's team are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. When their pagers go off, they've left the dinner table, the shower, the movie -- and even the dentist's chair -- to get to the rescue center and gear up for action.
Team members are also all certified emergency medical technicians and each has a separate set of skills, whether monitoring gas levels, communicating with the surface, maintaining equipment or navigating. Their equipment ranges from $10,000 thermal imaging cameras to massive spindles of communication cable, backpack-style breathing apparatuses and medical kits complete with stretchers and respirators.
Asbury said he's never seen a shortage of rescue teams when miners are hurt or lost, with teams racing in from all over the state when a call goes out.
Charles Conn, 52, captain of another Massey rescue team, this one based in Kentucky, said teams usually only see each other at competitions, where it's every team for itself.
"But when it came time for the actual event (at Aracoma), it wasn't a competition, everyone was in for the same common goal, we were all in it together," said Conn, who joined a rescue team four years ago, after 32 years underground.
"That's where we bonded. That's where we became a team," said Jeremy McClung, 28, who joined the team just one year before the fire.
"We went in as a team and came out brothers," said Vaught.
Aside from tragedies like Aracoma, mine rescue teams have recently been gaining experience through a more annoying task -- rescuing thieves who venture into abandoned mine shafts in search of copper wire they can sell as scrap.
Asbury's team has done two such rescues so far this year. Each time, they found two thieves who had been lost for days but were rescued alive after families reported them missing.
The events, while valuable training exercises, anger the rescue team members.
"We are risking our lives to rescue unwise people. It upsets our families when we have to go away on those calls," said Vaught.
Still, McClung said there was no doubt the copper thieves appreciated their rescuers.
"They'd given up. When they saw us they said: 'We know we're going to jail but can you please get us out,'" McClung recalled. "They were pretty grateful."

Utah Mine Country, After Disaster, Tells Panel It Fears Overregulation

Utah Mine Country, After Disaster, Tells Panel It Fears Overregulation September 26, 2007
HUNTINGTON, Utah, Sept. 25 —

With quiet voices, their words sometimes husky with emotion, residents of Utah coal country told a state panel on Tuesday that they feared the mines would be overwhelmed by new safety rules after a fatal accident last month.
“We’ve got the right laws in place right now that I think can take care of safety,” Brad Timothy, a longtime miner, said.
Mr. Timothy and 30 others gathered at the Huntington Elementary School gymnasium for the second hearing of the new Mine Safety Commission.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. formed the panel to investigate the state’s role in mine safety after the fatal collapse at the Crandall Canyon Mine near here killed six miners and three rescue workers.
Mr. Huntsman and commission members have suggested that Utah should be more active in regulating its 13 coal mines. They are now overseen by just the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Miners at the hearing viewed the commission with suspicion, and panel members spent considerable time reassuring residents that the state was not bent on closing the mines.
“We are not going to make more rules,” said Mayor Hilary Gordon of Huntington, a member of the commission. “We want to keep the mining industry strong.”
Nearly two months after the Crandall Canyon collapse, the main street of this tiny town is quiet, no longer flooded with news media, government vehicles and makeshift memorials. The lone sign that something terrible once occurred is a poster at a gasoline station saying, “We will never forget.”
Without hesitation, just about all of those in attendance said more mine regulation would ruin their livelihoods.
“I don’t want to see their jobs go down the drain,” said Lee Cratsenburg, 59, who worked for 19 years in mines. “I think the safety regulations should be left.”
Ms. Cratsenburg’s brother Dale Black was one of the rescue workers killed at Crandall Canyon. She said if existing regulations had been met there, “I don’t think the lives would have been lost.”
A panel member, Dennis O’Dell, a mine safety official for the United Mine Workers of America, disputed the notion that the state did not have a role. He said that Utah should consider supplementing the federal inspections, that there was a national shortage of federal safety specialists and that the agency had fallen behind on inspections.
“A large number of mines are not getting the inspections,” Mr. O’Dell said. “In some cases, M.S.H.A.’s falling behind are affecting the health and safety of the miners. The state might be able to play some role to help.”
Gary D. Kofford, an Emery County commissioner, warned that any actions the commission took would affect the local economy.
“Let us do our jobs,” Mr. Kofford said. “Don’t shut any more mines down. Don’t interfere.”
Industry officials were also hesitant to endorse a separate state regulatory system, saying the federal agency already conducted frequent and aggressive inspections that kept mines safe.
“I don’t think anyone on this commission understands how many inspections M.S.H.A. does,” said Ray Bridge, a safety manager for the Dugout Canyon Mine near Price. “In our opinion, they do a very thorough job.”
Mr. Bridge said his mine was subject to nearly constant inspections that looked into all aspects of the mine, including safety, noise levels and electrical equipment. He said a total of 245 federal inspectors had inspected Dugout Canyon throughout this year.
The prevailing sentiment was that nothing could have prevented the Crandall Canyon disaster and that any state intervention might worsen problems.
“This event was an anomaly and could not have been predicted,” said Joe Fielder, a longtime miner involved in the Crandall Canyon rescue effort. “This disaster was not the result of poor training or improper mine procedures.”
On a break from the hearing, Mr. O’Dell wandered over to a corner of the gymnasium. A coal miner, he conceded that he was frustrated with the sense that the local mines were in jeopardy and called accusations that the mines were already overregulated preposterous.
“The most precious resource in the mines,” he told the panel, “is the miner, not the coal.”

Black Beauty mine recognized as safest in nation

Black Beauty mine recognized as safest in nation
Department of Labor honors Wabash Valley coal mine
By Arthur E. FoulkesThe Tribune-StarSepetmber 25, 2007
TERRE HAUTE — A coal mine in Vigo and Sullivan counties near Pimento has been named the safest large surface coal mine in the nation by the United States Department of Labor.
The Farmersburg Mine, operated by Black Beauty Coal Co. of Evansville, was one of 19 mining operations recognized with 2006 Sentinels of Safety Awards.
The awards, which were established in 1925, recognize mining operations with the least accidents.
According to a media statement issued by Peabody Energy, which owns Black Beauty, the 260 employees of the Farmersburg Mine worked all of 2006 without a reportable accident.
The employees also operated more than 1 million hours and 19 months without a lost-time incident.
A lost-time incident is any mining accident that requires a miner to miss work, said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, a lobby group for the mining industry that sponsors the Sentinels of Safety Award along with the Department of Labor.
“I’m proud of our employees for setting a standard of safety that is consistently recognized throughout the nation,” said Gregory H. Boyce, president and CEO of Peabody Energy, in a media statement issued last week. Peabody mines have won Sentinels of Safety Awards in three of the past four years, the statement read.
Recent mining accidents, including a mine collapse in Utah earlier this year in which nine people were killed and an accident in West Virginia last year in which 12 people died, have tarnished a “record of progress” in mine safety over the past several years, Popovich said. More than 80 percent of all mines, mineral and coal, in 2006 had no lost-time accidents, he said.
Improved mining safety has not gotten the attention it deserves, said Matthew Faraci, a public affairs official with the Department of Labor. Faraci notes that mining injuries are down by 60 percent since 1996.
The United Mine Workers of America, in a report issued earlier this year, blamed the West Virginia accident on a series of decisions made by the mining company and federal regulators within the Department of Labor.
According to government figures, mining fatalities have fallen steadily from 242 in 1978 to 72 in 2006.
The Farmersburg Mine is not the only large surface mine in Indiana owned by Black Beauty to do well in the 2006 Sentinels of Safety awards competition. The Somerville Central Mine in Gibson County was the second-safest large surface mine in 2006 and the Francisco Mine, also in Gibson County, was ranked fourth.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

W.Va. Orders Mines to Reinforce Seals

W.Va. Orders Mines to Reinforce Seals
Houston Chronicle
September 25, 2007

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Underground coal mines must strengthen or replace seals made of cement foam block like those that failed in the Sago Mine disaster under new state regulations given final approval Tuesday.
Mines that can't beef up seals or replace them safely must monitor sealed areas for explosive gases daily and make sure they remain non-explosive, under regulations approved by the state Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety.
Both requirements go beyond federal rules adopted last May by the Mine Safety and Health Administration. MSHA's emergency sealing rule does not address repairing or replacing existing foam seals, only new ones.
Like that MSHA rule, however, the state would require rebuilt or replacement seals to withstand explosions generating 50 pounds per square inch of pressure.
Mines will be required to submit renovation plans to state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training Director Ron Wooten for approval. Wooten said he expects to give the industry 60 days to submit their plans. "As far as I'm concerned, let's get on with it," he said.
The final version differs only slightly from the proposal the state Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety sent out for comment last month. Only the United Mine Workers responded and the board agreed to the union's request to delete language that would have allowed an operator to avoid replacing or repairing seals based on a risk assessment of a mine.
Gary Trout, a UMW representative on the board, said the language could have allowed operators to avoid fixing or replacing seals. "They're going to have to remediate them in some kind of fashion," Trout said.
MSHA's rule requires mines to monitor the atmosphere behind 50 psi seals and make it non-explosive by pumping in inert gases. Mines could avoid monitoring by building seals to withstand 120 psi. Mines at risk of more powerful explosions would need even stronger seals.
While MSHA's rule is expected to have a big effect on the nation's 670 underground coal mines, the state's proposal is likely to be less noticeable. Mine operators already have replaced or strengthened some of the approximately 900 cement foam block seals that once existed in the state.
The state banned the use of cement foam blocks for seals last year in response to the fatal Sago explosion, which killed a dozen miners. Government investigators suspect lightning set off a methane explosion inside an abandoned, sealed area and destroyed the foam block seals.

Miners, politicians struggle with coal mining safety

Miners, politicians struggle with coal mining safety
Reuters - USABy Andrea Hopkins
September 25, 2007
SYLVESTER, W., Virginia (Reuters) - After three years of training with Massey Coal Co's award-winning mine rescue team, Jeremy McClung, 28, has advice for regulators struggling to make America's coal mines safer.
"Don't let politicians who don't know anything about the industry make decisions about our lives in the coal mines," said McClung, one of a 10-member rescue team at Massey's Elk Run mine in the mountains of West Virginia.
With the August deaths of six coal miners and three rescuers at a mine in Utah fresh in mind, the U.S. Congress is considering new regulations that would require more rescue teams, equipment, oversight and training at America's 653 underground coal mines.
But as regulators come up with new safety measures, mine operators complain sweeping changes passed by Congress last year haven't even been implemented yet -- and technology being proposed by politicians, including locating devices and wireless communication, is not yet invented.
"The problem is that decisions are being made, much of it in reaction to some very sad tragedies, by people who, while well-intentioned ... aren't as well informed about the potential impact of their actions as we'd like them to be," said Elizabeth Chamberlin, vice president of safety and training at Massey Energy Co in Charleston, West Virginia.
Massey has estimated that the new federal mine safety rules could cost it $24 million in the next two years. In March, Massey was fined $1.5 million, the highest for mine safety violations, after two miners died in a fire at one of its West Virginia mines.
Still, it's hard to blame Congress for the sense of urgency. There were 24 coal mining fatalities in 2007, after 47 deaths in 2006. From 1997 to 2006, an average of 33 U.S. coal miners died each year in accidents, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
Experts worry the death toll may only rise as coal companies undertake more dangerous projects in search of a dwindling supply of coal in a country that relies on the black rock for more than half of its electricity needs.
"The easy-picking coal is gone, we've been mining for more than 100 years. Now we're into more difficult circumstances, and we damn well better be willing to find ways to find miners underground and get them out more quickly," said Davitt McAteer, who was mine safety director for President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
But those in the mining industry argue knee-jerk reactions to disasters can also create problems.
Rescue team member McClung was annoyed by a proposal to make each miner carry 16 hours of breathable air -- even though one-hour belt-mounted units weigh eight pounds each. Mines instead have to cache oxygen at regular intervals underground.
Still, while mining companies complain they cannot equip mines with wireless communication and locaters until technology that can work through solid rock has been invented, critics say the technology will be developed once the motivation is there.
"If we had shut down all the mines we'd come up with a solution pretty quickly," McAteer said.
Joe Carter, international vice-president of the United Mine Workers of America District 17, agreed.
"Greed for profit is the highest stumbling block to advancing mine safety and health," said Carter. "Health and safety has been left to idle as companies focused on low coal prices and pressure on profits."
But union leaders, mine operators and experts alike also say the government system of regulation and research is fatally flawed -- though they disagree about what exactly is broken.
McAteer, now vice president at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, said MSHA regulators changed direction when Republican President George W. Bush took over in 2001, becoming more of an advisory body than inspection force.
MSHA chief Richard Stickler, a former coal executive, is under fire for his agency's decision to approve the mining plan for Murray Energy's Crandall Canyon in Utah, the mine where six miners and three rescuers died in August.
Carter also said a decline in union representation from about 95 percent of workers in 1976 to less than 50 percent today has made mines more dangerous, because workers are afraid to speak out about unsafe conditions.
Retired miner Chuck Nelson, 57, agrees. Nelson spent 28 years in both union and nonunion mines in West Virginia and has seen it all: fires, collapsing roofs, one man crushed by equipment and another killed when a rock bolt fell on him.
"When you're a worker you don't say nothing about safety," said Nelson. "You can't dwell on it, you have to go on

interview with UMWA about Crandall Canyon online

interview with UMWA about Crandall Canyon online

Last week on the Heartland Labor Forum on 90.1 FM KKFI, streaming live at, I interviewed Phil Smith of the UMWA about Crandall Canyon mine in Utah.
That show is now posted online at The Crandall Canyon segment is the first one after the 'news from our side.

Also in the archives from last April you can find streaming audio of an interview I did with Smith about the UMWA's report on Sago at

I am pasting below this weeks email from the Heartland Labor Forum.

Tom Klammer
Heartland Labor Forum volunteer and
host of "Tell Somebody" on 90.1 FM KKFI Kansas City Community Radio
Friday mornings 9-10am Central Time -
streaming live at

This is Pledge Drive week at KKFI. Please call in your pledge to support Heartland Labor Forum, Workers Independent News and community radio in Kansas City. Call 816-931-3122 during Thursdays show or anytime during the week or pledge on-line at We have union-made premiums – KKFI T-shirts, caps, totes and of course Heartland Labor Forum “Radio that talks back to the boss” bumper stickers.

September 20th show is now on the Heartland Labor Forum webpage @

Disappearing Government:
q Retreat Mining = No Regulation? Tom Klammer talks to Phil Smith from the United Mineworkers
q Neither Rain nor Sleet. . .but What About Privatization? Hester Duisik talks to Dave Gwin from the National Assn. of Letter Carriers Branch 30 about privatized mail routes in KC
q The News from Our Side
q Boss Hog: Lynn Anderson gives the snort to Merck and Company
q Common Good: Helen Bontrager can’t find much in the way we conduct elections and has a few suggestions

Tune in next Thursday at 6pm or Friday at 5am to make your pledge and hear the show: Their Soil Whose Oil? Iraq Oil Law & The GM Strike

· On 90.1FM KKFI Kansas City Community Radio with live streaming at

Check out and download our calendar and schedule of upcoming shows on our web site
Also tune in to WIN - Workers Independent News weekdays on KKFI at 4:57am, 7:57am and 4:57pm

Judy Ancel, Director
The Institute for Labor Studies
UMKC 211 Haag Hall
5100 Rockhill Road
Kansas City, MO 64110
fax: 816-235-2834
a joint program of The University of Missouri-Kansas City and Longview Community College

House panel issues subpoena for Crandall mine documents

House panel issues subpoena for Crandall mine documents

By Suzanne Struglinski

Deseret Morning News
Published: September 25, 2007

Meanwhile the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has a hearing planned for Oct. 2. Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., also has requested numerous documents from the department. Kennedy, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and other senators wrote Labor Department Inspector General Gordon Heddell last week asking for an expedited review.
During a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee meeting on Sept. 5, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he had not ruled out issuing a subpoena to Murray. As of last week, there had been no movement on that subpoena.
Witness lists for next week's mine hearings have yet to be finalized.
The Labor Department had requested that Miller put off his investigation until MSHA has finished its own look at the accident, but Miller said it was the committee's "responsibility and obligation" to do its own investigation.
"The families of the miners who died and active miners all over the country deserve an objective and independent review of the tragedy that will help us to prevent future tragedies," Miller said.
But Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., the top Republican on the committee, encouraged Miller to consider MSHA's request, saying that "it serves no one's interest — particularly those of the miners and their families — if our committee engages in any activity charged under the law with this undertaking."
McKeon asked Miller to outline the plans for the investigation, including what it specifically plans to do to "ensure that its activities do not compromise or prejudice MSHA's civil and criminal investigation."

Crandall Canyon probe

Crandall Canyon probe

House panel subpoenas Labor Department docs on Utah mine disaster

By Thomas Burr
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 09/24/2007 05:27:07 PM MDT

WASHINGTON - A House committee on Monday issued the first subpoena in the aftermath of the recent Utah mine disaster, compelling the Labor Department to turn over internal documents the committee has yet to receive voluntarily. House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., said in a statement that the subpoena came as a "last resort." The department has provided some documents to the committee but not any internal communications, committee staffers said. The Labor Department countered that it has given Miller's committee nearly 10,000 pages of documents it requested and everything it turned over to the department's independent inspector general. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Public Affairs, David James, issued a one-sentence response to the subpoena, saying that, "This political grandstanding is very disappointing in light of the department's extensive good-faith efforts to respond to the chairman's voluminous document request." Monday's subpoena demands copies of any documents from the Labor Department to the owners of the Crandall Canyon mine before and after the tragedy that killed nine men and injured six more in August. It also compels the department to provide internal documents regarding the Utah mine, any messages about it from other executive branch offices and communications related to the August request by the committee for those documents. Miller also demanded any documents reflecting communications between mine co-owner Bob Murray and department officials. The committee plans a hearing next week on the Utah mine tragedy, though the due date for subpoenaed documents isn't until a week later. Committee spokesman Tom Kiley said the panel would prefer to work together with the department to secure the requested documents, "but by failing to cooperate with us, the Labor Department has left us no choice but to subpoena the information." Kiley added that the committee intends to "conduct a comprehensive, independent investigation of the tragedy so that we can help learn what steps we can take to prevent future tragedies." The Labor Department said it provided a litany of documents, including all emergency response plans for every U.S. mine, the emergency response plan for the Crandall Canyon mine and all maps of the mine since 2004. The department also provided the roof control plan and the order taking control of the Crandall Canyon operation after the disaster. The subpoena comes a week after the Labor Department's inspector general asked for the House committee to back off its probe into the cave ins at the mine until the Mine Safety and Health Administration completed its inquiry. Acting Solicitor General Jonathon Snare told the committee in a letter that agency's ability to enforce the law and hold violators accountable could be hampered by parallel investigations. But Miller declined to hold off on his inquiry noting that his panel has jurisdiction to investigate the disaster; he did, however, say on Monday that his subpoena does not seek documents by the department's internal accident investigation team. Three congressional committees are investigating the mine disaster in rural Utah and two hearings are scheduled next week looking at mine safety nationwide. The Senate Health, Education and Pensions Committee earlier this month requested a load of documents from the Labor Department. The House labor committee asked for similar documents and also sent a request to the mine's co-owner, Murray Energy, asking for internal company documents on the mine's operations. Six miners were trapped after a cave in Aug. 6 in the Crandall Canyon mine, and three rescue workers were killed and six more injured trying to reach those miners. Rescue efforts were suspended soon after and the original six are now entombed in the mine with no immediate plan to recover their bodies.

Monday, September 24, 2007

State finds no contributing violations in August mine death

State finds no contributing violations in August mine death

September 24, 2007 12:55 PM

The state has issued three citations to a mine where a section foreman was killed last month.But the Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training says none of the violations contributed to the Aug. 4 accident at the Rockhouse Creek Number 8 Mine near Gilbert in Mingo County. Miner Steve Browning Jr. died two days later at St. Mary's Medical Center in Huntington.
Investigators determined Browning was struck in the head by a shaft that came loose from a continuous mining machine he was helping to fix.
In an accident report released Monday, the state said it cited Rockhouse for not maintaining proper air flow, setting a breaker too high on a transformer and not following its roof control plan.
A company spokesman did not immediately return a call Monday.
Five West Virginia miners have died on the job in 2007. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration puts the national death toll at 25.

Arch Coal Subsidiary Sued Over Damaged House

Arch Coal Subsidiary Sued Over Damaged House

September 23, 2007

Arch Coal subsidiary sued over damaged house
Lawsuit cites explosions at Logan mine

By Paul J. NydenStaff writer

A subsidiary of Arch Coal Inc. has damaged the house of a Logan County family and surrounding properties, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.The lawsuit, filed by lawyer Truman Chafin, alleges that mining activities at one of the Logan County mines owned by Coal-Mac Inc. has damaged the house of Rusty and Sandy Maynard and their family.Coal-Mac began strip-mining operations near the Maynard family’s newly built house on Cow Creek in August 2006, according to the lawsuit.From winter 2006 through summer 2007, the lawsuit alleges, Coal-Mac daily “engaged in blasting in its mining operations by setting off charges of dynamite or other highly-dangerous explosives ... in disregard of state laws, rules and regulations.”Those explosions, the lawsuit alleges, caused the Maynard house “to vibrate violently” and caused “serious damage to their home including numerous cracks in the foundation and in the walls.”Today, the family home has become uninhabitable, according to the lawsuit.A telephone call to Kim Link, an Arch Coal spokeswoman in St. Louis, was not returned on Friday or Saturday.Explosions from Coal-Mac mining operations also sprayed “fly rock, dust and other particles” on the house and property of Rusty and Sandy Maynard, who “are now afraid to live in their home and fear for their physical safety,” the lawsuit states.In recent months, representatives from Arch Coal apologized to the Maynards and promised “to take corrective and remedial actions,” but those actions were never taken, according to the lawsuit.In their lawsuit, the Maynards ask for an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages.The lawsuit also asks the court to issue “an order of cessation,” prohibiting Coal-Mac from “setting off charges of dynamite and other highly-charged explosives” near the Maynard house in the future.Attached to the lawsuit are copies of six violations issued against Coal-Mac by West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection inspectors.An Aug. 21 citation stated that mine explosions were set off illegally within 1,000 feet of “protected structures” without filing a “specific blast plan,” as required by state law.An Aug. 29 citation stated that the blasting “is creating an imminent danger to the health or safety of the public” and/or might “cause significant, imminent harm to the environment.” That citation ordered Coal-Mac to halt all drilling and blasting operations in the vicinity of the Maynard house.To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail or call 348-5164.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~"Bringing Down the Mountains: the Impact of Mountaintop Removal on Southern West Virginia Communities," now available for preorder through the WVU Press, at, or other fine on-line retailers.

WNY&PRR lands coal business

WNY&PRR lands coal business
FALCONER, NY — The Western New York & PennsylvaniaRailroad (WNYP) has been designated to handle a newcoal movement between Emporium, Pennsylvania andJamestown, New York.
The Jamestown Board of Public Utilities, whichoperates an electric generating station at Jamestown,has awarded a competitively- bid contract toAllegheny Enterprises of Sterling Run, Pennsylvania tosupply 32,000 tons of coal over a one-year periodstarting in November. The coal will be transported bythe Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad (WNYP) atthe rate of 6 to 10 cars per week.
"This new rail business demonstrates the advantages ofWNYP's recent lease of the Buffalo Line," said WilliamD Burt, president. "The Southern Tiergets lower costs for generating electricity. TheNorthern Tier gets new outlets for its products."
The line, which extends from Machias, New York throughOlean and Emporium to Driftwood, Pennsylvania, wasleased to WNYP by the Norfolk Southern Railway onAugust 3.
"Combining the Buffalo Line with WNYP's existingEast-West main line allowed us to make Olean Yard intoa hub," Burt explained. "The result is efficientrail transportation that makes our region's industrialemployers more competitive, preserving jobs and taxbase. This new coal traffic will behandled by our Driftwood trains to Olean, then betransferred to our Olean-Meadville trains for movementto Jamestown, where our Falconer-basedcrew will spot the cars."
Allegheny Enterprises had previously bid on theJamestown BPU business but found that trucking costsposed a formidable obstacle, according to WNYPMarketing & Sales Vice President Daniel E. Eagan. "Weare excited to partnerwith Allegheny Enterprises to open new markets forthem while offering theJamestown BPU a new source of competitively pricedlow-sulfur, high-BTU coal."
Eagan noted that WNYP and Allegheny Enterprises areexploring other potential markets, including some thatreach beyond WNYP to include destinations onconnecting Norfolk Southern lines. Allegheny has bothlow and high sulfur coal. The latter is often used bypower plants equipped with scrubbers.
Burt noted that the first contact with AlleghenyEnterprises was made by a new WNYP employee, tracksupervisor Howard Uber of Emporium. "I appreciateHoward's taking the initiative," said Burt, "and hewill be seeing some evidence of that shortly."

Early Women Miners

Early Women Miners

Women have played a significant part in mining since the early days of our Nation’s history.Many of the newly-hired women worked in underground mines in the Appalachian coalfields. Between 1974 and 1980, almost 2,400 women were hired as underground coal workers in the East; only 242 were hired in the Midwest; and 272 in the West. The reason for these differences in hiring patterns was because underground coal mines required a larger workforce than other types of mining.In November 1978, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) unanimously passed a resolution to help support widening the options for women in mining.
Women became active and hard workers for the UMWA, and several women were elected as delegates to the UMWA’s 1978 convention, where union policies and contract demands were formulated. This was the last “boom” year of the decade, with nearly 18,000 miners hired nationwide. For the years 1978-1980, females comprised 6.5 percent of all new underground workers.Mining is a dangerous occupation, and miners daily face a variety of environmental and industrial hazards.

In 1979, 144 miners perished in accidents. One of these was Marilyn McCusker; a roof bolter helper, and the first woman coal miner to die on the job.On October 2, Marilyn McCusker, 35, perished in a roof fall in a coal mine in Pennsylvania. It had taken her two years and having to file a sex discrimination suit in Federal court in order to get her job. She had about two years’ mining experience, roughly three months of which she worked as a roof-bolter helper.McCusker was retreating from an intersection in the mine after she had noticed the roof starting to dribble. The roof fell, pinning her under the edge of a 20x25x2-1/2-foot-thick slab of rock. Accident investigators later found that the accident was due to the operator’s failure to adequately support a known bad roof area with temporary roof supports until additional permanent roof supports could be installed.The number of women coal miners had increased from zero in 1973 to 33,730 in 1983 when women comprised 8.6 percent of the mining work force.In most underground mines, women are hired as general inside laborers (or “trainees”), as are inexperienced men.

These are some of the most physically demanding jobs in a mine, such as shoveling coal that has spilled from conveyors, or transporting heavy timbers to lay track for the mine’s rail haulage system. Experienced women may operate shuttle cars, which carry coal from the working face to the belt, or operate mining machines or roof bolters. A similar job progression occurs in surface mines where new miners usually begin employment by working in simpler tasks and moving into more difficult assignments as they gain experience.In the mid 1980's when the underground coal mining industry started to decline, many women lost their mining jobs because of the rule, “last hired, first fired.”Although overall employment in the underground coal mining industry has declined in the past two decades, women have taken their place in the nation’s mines. They do all types of jobs, from general laborer to mining engineer in underground and surface coal and metal nonmetal mines.Most women miners surveyed love their jobs, regardless of the risks involved, and have no desire to seek employment elsewhere.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Willow Creek mine explosions

Willow Creek mine explosions

Some wounds run too deep to heal
By Mike Gorrell The Salt Lake Tribune
September 23, 2007

When the explosion happened in the Willow Creek mine, the only light Bill Burton had came from the face of this broken watch. On surviving a series of explosions at the Willow Creek mine north of Price 7 years later Even survivors of mine disasters do not escape unscathed.
If physical injuries do not haunt them, their memories do.
Such is the case with William Burton, David Berdan and Tyson Hales, three miners who were battered but lived through a series of explosions on a midsummer night seven years ago in the Willow Creek mine north of Price.
"I try not to, but I think about it quite often," said Hales of the blasts that killed two colleagues - Cory Nielsen and Shane Stansfield - and injured eight.
Like the Crandall Canyon mine, Willow Creek was deep underground. The massive weight of the mountain overhead made the mine susceptible to "bumps," mining lingo for a sudden release of pressure in the form of violent roof falls or wall failures.
Crandall Canyon attracted considerable attention when a catastrophic bump buried six miners Aug. 6 and a second implosion 10 days later claimed three more lives and wounded six would-be rescuers.
Willow Creek received limited coverage because only two miners died. But Willow Creek actually was known to be more dangerous than Crandall Canyon, for it was plagued by two additional hazards: methane and liquid hydrocarbons.
Highly explosive methane is common in mines. But liquid hydrocarbons, stinky substances with the consistency of diesel fuel, are not found outside of the Book Cliffs coal field in Carbon County.
Because liquid hydrocarbons are rare, they are not addressed directly in federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) regulations. So when the Utah Mine Safety Commission met Sept. 10, MSHA field office supervisor William Taylor said that if the state were seriously interested in making Utah coal mines safer, it would help devise ways to monitor and control liquid hydrocarbons.
"While it was a terrible situation in Crandall Canyon, any miner will tell you they have experienced bounces and bumps," Taylor said. "But when you look at hydrocarbons, it doesn't just have explosive gases but is an unknown entity when combined with coal dust and diesel emissions. We need experts in the field to develop health and safety standards."
Liquid hydrocarbons figured prominently in the explosions - three in eight minutes - that decimated a crew working in the Willow Creek mine July 31, 2000.
The 10-man crew was removing the coal seam with an 815-foot-wide longwall mining machine. Its cutting shear went back and forth slicing off the front edge of the coal seam while crew members performed tasks beneath hundreds of parallel shields - each shaped somewhat like an inverted 'L' - that held up the roof over their heads. As coal was removed, the hydraulically powered shields slid forward, allowing the rock overhead to collapse into the void left behind. That caved area is called "the gob."
While a methane scare shut down the longwall for about 40 minutes between 9 and 10 p.m., mining was proceeding at a good clip by 11:48 p.m., when a roof fall in the gob set off a methane explosion.
The impact knocked down several people, including Burton, the shift boss, and miners Hales and Berdan. None was hurt seriously. But they were propelled into fast action. The explosion had set ablaze some liquid hydrocarbons in the gob behind the shields.
While a couple of miners sprayed the fire with a hose, others hustled to gather fire extinguishers and bags of fire-squelching rock dust. Before they could do any good with these suppressants, however, flames migrated atop the liquid hydrocarbons to another methane pocket.
Kaboom! This 11:55 p.m. explosion hurled Nielsen into the steel shields, killing him. The 225-pound Burton was flung into another piece of machinery and knocked out. Others were burned, pelted with coal shrapnel or sent flying. Several lost their headlamps, leaving them in darkness.
A minute later, as they staggered toward evacuating the section, the third explosion hit. Stansfield, who was climbing into a low-slung "mantrip" vehicle to exit the mine, was thrown head first into a stack of wooden roof supports, each the size of a railroad tie. He died.
Berdan does not recall this explosion. But from what he has been told and his injuries, he suspects he was thrown backward into the mantrip, nearly ripping off an ear and opening a gash in his head. Hales probably bashed his head against the vehicle too.
When Burton came to, he crawled to the protective cover of an upended "shop car," a 6-ton vehicle that had been blown 100 feet back in a tunnel. He was assisted there by Roger McKinnon who, despite badly burned hands, got behind the wheel of the mantrip and drove Berdan and Kyle Medley to safety.
"The mantrip was just covered with black [soot]," Berdan said. "It blew all the back windows out, the taillights, everything. Roger scraped a little [clearing] in the windshield just to try and see so we could get out."
Rescue teams later brought out Burton, Hales and the bodies of Stansfield and Nielsen. By 4 a.m., everyone was out. The mine was sealed at 10 a.m. and has not reopened.
But in the seven years since, the long-term effect of that explosive night became evident.
Burton's 28-year career in the mines was over. Much of his social life, too. Hunting and fishing, things he'd done all his life, are almost impossible to do now. The explosions broke seven vertebrae, his left shoulder and collarbone; fractured a leg just below the knee and tore away the skin above and below the break line. His right arm was seared "and it burned my mustache off," he said.
"In all my years, I had never been hurt," added Burton, who was permanently disabled at age 49. "I still have a buzzing in my head. . . . I don't know how in the hell I made it through."
Berdan was a mess, too. He had a busted-up knee, cartilage torn loose from his ribs and a big burn on his back. When his wife, Lezlie, saw him at the Price hospital, she said, "I about passed out. His ear's hanging there and he's got these cuts you could see the bone in his head through. His hair was a melted mess [from hot coal shards]. My knees buckled, but I could not let him see how scared I was."
Hales was left with a damaged shoulder, neck injuries and brain trauma.
"I basically had to renew my brain - learn my ABCs and handwriting - because all that stuff was damaged," he said. "A vocational therapist helped me with my memory, taught me how to picture how to remember things and [associate] people's names with rhymes."
Recuperating mentally was tough for all three.
Hales, then 21, is troubled by dreamlike visions of Stansfield just before his death.
"I seen a counselor forever, asking 'why did I live and this other person didn't and we were in the same place? . . . Why this person with a family and two kids? Why couldn't I sacrifice my life for his? I was single,' " he said. "Now I'm basically scared of getting close to someone. . . . It's hard to get to know somebody knowing that something like that can happen to them."
Tears come to Burton's eyes as he talks of Nielsen and Stansfield. "That still bothers the hell out of me, losing those two kids. Their parents are so damned tore up." Him, too. "It will never go away. In my head, it never goes away."
Now 40, Berdan has adjusted pretty well. But loud noises make him jumpy and blowing sand triggers flashbacks of being peppered with coal shards. Like Hales, he has "survivor's guilt."
To cope with an upsurge of those feelings as he watched the Crandall Canyon tragedy play out, Berdan said "if there's something I could do to help them families, I'd try to get them a good lawyer like we had."
He was referring to a team of attorneys led by Fred Silvester of Salt Lake City. Through their efforts, the families of the two dead men and the eight injured miners secured an undisclosed settlement from the German company that owned Willow Creek.
Despite the horrific experience, most of the Willow Creek crew are still miners. Burton's not, but insists "if I hadn't been hurt this bad, I'd go back underground. It's all I've ever done since high school."
Hales worked in a mine warehouse outside of Farmington, N.M., but has returned underground to a relatively safe job building seals to close off mined-out sections. "I needed insurance, so I decided to make a sacrifice for my family," which now includes three young children.
Berdan was employed at the Tower mine in Carbon County before owner Robert Murray shut it down after the disaster at Crandall Canyon, also owned by Murray.
"I could be driving a truck and working up to 70 hours a week compared to working 40 hours a week and being home," he said. "I make more money in the mines. Money is the bottom line to mining. That's why it gets a lot of people."