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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check this out:

Huffington Post article by Cecil Roberts. Exerpts below; full article here:

From "Mining in a Perfect World":

"Make no mistake -- this was no act of God. This was an act of men, and these men must be held accountable for their actions."

Mine owner "Bob Murray is right about one thing: This isn't about him. It's about the more universal practice, old as the history of mining, of putting
production and profits ahead of people."

2:52 PM  
Blogger Blondy said...

Hey Kathy. I'm working on a coal mining documentary with Lucky Duck Productions ( I'd love to get in touch with you and get some insight. Do you have an email I could contact you with?

5:38 PM  

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