Saturday, March 29, 2008

Closure Announced of Struggling Tower Mine

UtahAmerican Energy has announced closure of its Tower Mine in Carbon County, Utah, which recently got slapped with fines of more than $420,000 for two "flagrant" violations of 30 CFR 75.400, the standard that prohibits accumulations of combustible materials.

The mine, like the Crandall Canyon Mine where nine died in two outbursts this summer, is owned Robert E. Murray. Like all other deep coal mines in the West, it has faced intense scrutiny since the disaster.

The Salt Lake Tribune:

The company said it had to close the Tower mine because of "recently encountered, unexpected and unusual stress conditions"...

P. Bruce Hill, UtahAmerican's president and chief executive officer, said the safety of the mine's employees was at stake, given unforeseen geological and mining conditions...

"Safety is our only initial concern, and we do not believe that the Tower Mine can be operated at this time," Hill said, adding that "unforeseen changes in requirements by the [federal] Mine Safety and Health Administration also have contributed to the forced closure of the mine."

But both Federal agencies involved professed ignorance:

MSHA's Amy Louviere said in an e-mail that "we cannot speculate as to what 'unforeseen changes' UtahAmerican references in its press release."

James Kohler, chief of the solid minerals branch for the Utah Bureau of Land Management, said the company has yet to submit an application to BLM to close the mine, as it is required to do.

AP had a bit more in the way of details:

The company wanted to relocate a longwall mining machine inside Tower but found the conditions unsafe....

The Murray Energy Corp. subsidiary closed the mine for several weeks last summer as engineers tested its ability to withstand seismic shocks that plagued the company's Crandall Canyon mine near Huntington, Utah, where nine people died in two cave-ins.

The Tower mine, seven miles north of Price, Utah, reopened in late January.

The company's statement didn't specify whether the Tower mine, previously known as the Aberdeen mine, was being permanently shut down. It was also unclear how many people work at the mine

Meanwhile, the Tribune reported,

Most of the employees will be transferred to UtahAmerican's nearby West Ridge Mine, which is being expanded, [Hill] said.

If you're having some trouble finding UtahAmerican's Tower Mine in the MSHA database, that's because it's still registered with MSHA as Andalex Resources, Aberdeen Mine, MSHA ID 4202028. The two "flagrant" penalties totaling $420,300, for violations dated 10/26/06 and 6/31/07 will be found in the MSHA data for the Aberdeen Mine.

Murray Energy, parent of UtahAmerican, acquired Andalex in August 2006.

The database shows that the mine had 207 employees in the second quarter of 2007, of whom 164 worked underground, producing 494,740 tons. In third quarter, employment rose to 251, of whom 185 worked underground, but production came to only 128,114 tons. During the idle 4th quarter, only 61 employees were reported, 37 of them working underground.

The Tower (or Aberdeen) mine was the site of a fatal outburst in January 2006 (before the Murray takeover).

Last year the mine reported 13 lost-worktime injuries for a rate of 9.04 per 200,000 employee-hours, compared with a national average of 4.73 for similar operations, the MSHA database shows.

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