Saturday, August 11, 2007

Borehole is Through at Crandall Canyon

The Salt Lake Tribune has this:

HUNTINGTON -- A second bore hole has been punched through to a central Utah mine cavity where six miners are believed to have been trapped for five days.
The rescue-drilling project -- an 8 5/8-inch wide, almost 1,900-foot-long shaft through which food, water, video cameras and sensors can be dropped -- reached its destination about 3 a.m. Saturday, said Robert Murray, owner of the Crandall Canyon Mine.

There was no immediate word whether rescuers had determined whether the six, cut off since a cave-in occurred at the Emery County coal mine early Monday morning, are alive.
More details are out now on the triple fatality in Indiana, although the company was still withholding names pending notification of relatives. The Indianapolis Star

The open-top bucket was somehow "upset" inside the shaft as it was descending, and the three men fell to the bottom, Zugel said. He said he did not know what caused the bucket to shift.

All other workers were accounted for, Zugel said. Gibson County Sheriff Allen Harmon said the three bodies had been removed from the shaft.

The "sinking bucket" can hold six to 10 people and is about 6 feet high, worker John Ervin said. The three men were the only people in the bucket at the time, state Fire Marshal Roger Johnson said.

"I don't understand how this could have happened," said Ervin, who added that the chain holding the bucket is inspected daily.

At the start of a shift, the bucket typically takes about six people down to the work area at the bottom of the shaft, Ervin said. The distance is comparable to a 40-story building...

Gibson County Coal's last fatality was in November 2001, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. A miner died after being pinned by equipment, and operator error was cited as the cause.

Last year, the mine administration cited the company for 353 safety violations -- 127 of which were deemed "serious or significant," said Rodney Brown, a spokesman for the agency, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Labor...

"It's the inspector's judgment that the violation, if left unchecked, would lead to a serious injury. In issuing our citations, that's basically an order to fix the problem," he said.

And, it entails a civil penalty of $60 to $60,000, or up to $220,000 for aggravated cases.

Further details on Crandall Canyon:

Murray Energy Vice President Rob Moore said rescue teams were slowed by "some difficult roof conditions" in one section, requiring them to slow their forward advance while erecting additional roof and wall-support materials to prevent more caving.

But mine owner Murray also noted that rescue teams also found small, 2- to 4-foot sections of tunnel in which no caving had occurred.

"They can be traveling by foot to a point and then they can't travel" any farther without having to haul out piles of coal and rock, he said. "The pace they're going is much faster because they're not reaching the magnitude of outbursts."

In addition, Moore said rescue teams had widened part of the tunnel, increasing prospects of doubling the amount of machinery that can be used to remove rubble.
Still, the rescue team has no idea whether more or less fallen rock will be encountered as they progress deeper into the mine.

The suspense is brutal. Even more so, if possible, for a community that held its breath through a protracted rescue effort in 1984. Twenty-seven miners died in the fire that broke out December 19, 1984, at the Wilberg Mine. Rescue teams struggled heroically for days, at great personal risk, to reach the missing but finally had to withdraw as the fire raged beyond control.

Both company and government officials now seem to be continuing the practice of regularly updating the families and --through the media -- the community. That's the way it was traditionally done, up until Sago.

Ellen Smith's editorial of yesterday was noted in the Tribune also. The paper reported on the same page:

Assistant Secretary of Labor and Director of Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) Richard Stickler says there will be no MSHA investigation of the Crandall Canyon mine collapse until the rescue operations are concluded. Beginning such a probe now, he says, would be a distraction to both rescue workers and company management.

"We are trying not to interfere," Stickler said.

I don't quite get it that MSHA would allow the distraction of running a news crew underground to get on-site video of the effort but not the "distraction" of starting a mandated investigation. It is to be hoped that the coment was taken out of context. If MSHA is still running investigations as it always did, MSHA investigators should already have taken some preliminary steps, such as securing copies of the mine operator's pre-shift, on-shift and other safety examination records.

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