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Mine's record better than many, far from spotless

Published August 7, 2007 1:17 am

The Emery County operation has received hundreds of citations in the past three years, some serious enough to pose risk of injury or death
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Crandall Canyon mine in Emery County has received hundreds of citations in the past three years for breaching federal standards, but still has a good safety record, according to government figures.

The bituminous coal mine ran up a record of more than 300 safety violations, of which 118 were considered to be serious enough to cause injury or death, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration.

One fatality occurred at the non-union mine in Huntington Canyon in 1997. But the rate of injuries has been lower than the national rate for similar underground mines for all but one of the past 13 years, government figures show. Earlier figures were not immediately available.

"The numbers look relatively low compared to what I would expect at other mines of its size nationwide," Bruce Dial, a former Mine Safety and Health Administration inspector who currently serves as an expert witness in legal battles between mine companies and injured workers, said Monday.

"It means that [the owners] are doing what they can to make [the mine] safer," Dial said. "From what I've seen, it appears to me to be relatively safe, compared to what else is around."

But that opinion isn't shared by all.

The United Mine Workers of America is critical of the Crandall Canyon operation, which employs non-union miners.

Bob Butero, the union's Denver-based regional director, hasn't been in the mine. But he said the number of serious violations turned up by government inspectors is high.

"When you are talking about [almost 120 serious violations in three years], that would be alarming to me. If it were one of our union mines, we wouldn't allow the pattern to continue," Butero said, noting that an effort to organize mine workers failed six or seven years ago.

Crandall Canyon is operated by Murray Energy Corp., a privately owned coal producer based in Pepper Pike, Ohio, outside Cleveland. The mine is part of Murray's Genwal mine complex, which produced 604,975 tons of soft coal last year, according to the mine safety administration.

Much of the coal is burned by the Intermountain Power Agency to generate electricity, said Jim Kohler, chief of the Bureau of Land Management's solid minerals branch in Salt Lake City.

"It's a good quality of coal. They have a track record of being a safe and productive mine," Kohler said.

The mine has been inspected six times this year. The latest inspection, which took place July 5, is still open. During that episode, inspectors cited the mine for 11 violations for various safety infractions. A subsequent administration report showed 12 citations were later issued, of which six were considered serious enough to cause injury or death.

One violation was for failing to adequately provide at least two escape routes inside the sprawling mine. No details were provided, but government inspectors did not think the violation was serious enough to recommend a fine.

Three of the serious violations were for failing to dispose or store flammable materials. Again, no fine was recommended.

No mine administration official was available to comment on Crandall Canyon's safety record Monday.

More than $280,000 in fines have been imposed on the mine since 1995, according to the mine safety administration.