(AFP) – Jul 24, 2008
LOS ANGELES (AFP) — The operators of a Utah mine at the center of a collapse that led to nine fatalities last August have been fined 1.6 million dollars, health and safety officials announced Thursday.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) said the operators of the Crandall Canyon Mine had failed to report repeated collapses at the facility which meant inspectors were unable to assess practices there.
Six miners were killed on August 6 when pillars propping up tunnels some 1,500 feet (450 meters) underground collapsed. Three rescue workers were killed 10 days later after a tunnel they were working in collapsed.
In a statement, Richard Stickler, assistant secretary of labor for the MSHA, said the tragedy had stemmed from mine operator Genwal Resources' "reckless failure" to report three previous coal "outbursts," including one just three days before the initial incident on August 6.
"These reporting failures were critical, because they deprived MSHA of the information it needed to properly assess the operator's mining plans," Stickler said in a statement.
"MSHA also found that the operator was taking more coal than allowed from the barrier pillars and the floor. This dangerously weakened the strength of the roof support."
The MSHA also flatly rejected mine owner Bob Murray's repeated claims that the accident had been triggered by an earthquake.
"It was not - and I'll repeat not - a naturally occurring earthquake," Stickler was quoted by local media as saying.
"It was a catastrophic outburst of the coal pillars that were used to support the group above the coal seam." Stickler told reporters at a briefing.
The MSHA said Genwal had been fined 1.34 million dollars for violations that directly contributed to the deaths of the six miners.
The mine operators were also hit with fines totaling 296,664 dollars for 11 non-contributory violations arising from the investigation.
In a statement after the MSHA released its report, Genwal did not respond directly to the damning allegations against the company, instead suggesting investigators had bowed to political pressure.
"Regrettably, this report does not have the benefit of all of the facts and appears to have been tainted in part by 10 months of relentless political clamoring to lay blame for these tragic events," a Genwal statement said.
A mining consultant, Agapito Associates, was fined 220,000 dollars for faulty analysis of the mine's design, the MSHA statement said.
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