Thursday, September 06, 2007

Hearing Yesterday

The first Congressional hearing on Crandall Canyon took place yesterday before the Appropriations subcommitee that oversees MSHA. In general Capitol Hill seemed unusually quiet in the wake of the Labor Day holiday. In attendance at the hearing: committee chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), ranking member Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) who heads the full committee, Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and both of Utah's Senators, Orrin Hatch and Robert Bennett.

This hearing, though, ran long as MSHA chief Richard Stickler answered a raft of questions. There was, justifiably, a lot of focus on the approval of the roof control plan for Crandall Canyon. Stickler declined to endorse the plan pending investigation. Former MSHA chief Davitt McAteer said it should never have been approved, as did UMWA president Cecil Roberts. Bruce Watzman of the NMA focused in mainly on the difficult effort to achieve true wireless, 2-way underground communication, in which there is some progress.

McAteer described and supplied, for display, a device that can monitor ground movements and help identify a rising risk of outbursts. These have been used routinely in South Africa, he said, and the U.S. may need them now as our Western coal mines plunge ever deeper. He said that excessive ground pressure can be relieved by controlled explosions if necessary.

Though there were many questions about the rescue effort, there was no direct criticism of the decision to keep rescuers at work despite outbursts that occurred as they were trying to clear and support a passage to the area of the missing miners. Listening to the narrative was heartbreaking all over again. Stickler said that until the final outburst that caused three fatalities, none of the other outbursts during the rescue disturbed the heavy-duty roof support the crews were putting in place as they went.

I had not previously heard that one miner at Crandall Canyon actually got notice of the order to evacuate via a "wireless" communication system that was publicized after Sago last year. This piece of information was mentioned by Bruce Watzman. In addition to the PEDS, the mine had a redundant hard-wired communication system in two separate entries, Stickler said, but the original massive outburst or collapse on August 6 ripped wire mesh down from the roof and the wires along with it. No absolutely wireless system exists at present that will penetrate throughout a mine; all depend on some kind of wire "backbone" at least, but it was good to learn that the PEDS did make a difference to one miner, anyway.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

MSHA Has Posted

all of the Crandall Canyon fatalities to its website as of yesterday afternoon. Apparently the agency distributed a statement on Saturday, September 1 (see comment on yesterday's entry), though that statement still doesn't seem to be on the website.

Commenter Tom Bethel also correctly pointed out that this is only the worst accident since last year. The Sago explosion, January 2, 2006, caused 12 fatalities. Apologies for the error.

More this afternoon.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

In Memoriam

Yesterday marked 4 weeks since the Crandall Canyon mine collapse. MSHA told families of the missing Crandall Canyon miners that the search for them would not continue, a family spokesman told reporters. The announcement to the families reportedly came late on Friday before the three-day Labor Day holiday.

Search for missing Crandall Canyon miners halted
By Christopher Smart and Donald W. Meyers
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 08/31/2007 08:53:06 PM MDT

Colin King, attorney for the miners' families, said this evening the officials with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration told the families that the search was "done, it's finished," and there are no plans to resume it.

The MSHA representatives, whom King did not identify, also told the families during a briefing at the Desert Edge Christian Church that the miners - missing since a horrific collapse on Aug. 6 - are considered to be dead.

It seems a little surprising that there appeared to be no official announcement by MSHA. As of 10:30 this morning, the agency hadn't updated its Crandall Canyon page since last Thursday, when official investigations were announced, and had not added the six missing miners to its official fatality statistics.

Is it possible that the news is not entirely correct or complete? I remember Sago so well -- staying up for 2 hours hearing news, via family members, that all the miners had survived. It was puzzling not to have an official announcement at Sago, but after 2 hours without a correction from government officials, there seemed no reason to doubt the information. How wrong that turned out to be.

Again, there seems to be no reason to doubt the information, but why has it not come directly from the federal agency? In the MINER Act passed in response to Sago, Congress directed MSHA to take the lead with the media during emergencies. Still, it seems most likely that MSHA's official announcement is merely being held off for some reason.

On that assumption(footnote, Salt Lake Tribune):

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

The Missing Crandall Canyon Miners
Kerry Allred
Don Erickson
Luis Alonso Hernandez
Juan Carlos Payan
Brandon Phillips
Manuel Sanchez

The Rescuers
Dale R. Black
Gary L. Jensen
Brandon Kimber

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

May they never be forgotten. In addition, let us remember six more injured in the rescue effort, who, I believe, have never been identified, although one is known to be an MSHA employee.

Altogether, this is the worst disaster in almost 6 years. There is a sad similarity to the previous tragedy on September 23, 2001, in which 13 coal miners died. A methane explosion had injured one miner; the other 12 were rushing to his aid when the second explosion occurred.