Crandall Canyon criminal investigation closes with settlement

AFTER four-and-a-half years, a criminal probe into the 2007 Crandall Canyon mine collapse in Utah that killed nine has ended, with a $US500,000 fine handed down to the operator along with its admission to two misdemeanor criminal charges.
Crandall Canyon criminal investigation closes with settlement Crandall Canyon criminal investigation closes with settlement Crandall Canyon criminal investigation closes with settlement Crandall Canyon criminal investigation closes with settlement Crandall Canyon criminal investigation closes with settlement

Crandall Canyon mine.

Donna Schmidt

US attorney for the District of Utah David Barlow said Friday that the office had filed a two-count information charging Murray Energy affiliate Genwal Resources, owner of the Carbon County complex, with two criminal violations of Federal Mine Safety and Health Act regulations.

The first count relates to the operator’s failure to report a significant coal outburst on March 10, 2007 that disrupted regular mining activity for more than an hour and caused the permanent withdrawal of miners from the area. Reporting such an event, and in a time period of 15 minutes, is required by US Mine Safety and Health Administration laws.

The second count alleges that Genwal violated health and safety standards in the Main West South Barrier area of the mine, an area previously prohibited from work by its MSHA-approved roof control plan.

“Specifically, the information alleges that Genwal mined the barrier pillar on or about August 3, 2007, in the No. 1 entry between crosscuts 142-139, in violation of the roof control plan,” the US Attorney’s office said.

Barlow confirmed that the office came to a plea agreement, with the operator agreeing to plead guilty to both counts and pay the maximum fine allowed of $250,000 per count. In its admission of guilt, the producer said it willfully did not report the March 2007 outburst in a timely manner and also admitted it was aware of the approved roof control plan amendment prohibiting mining at the barrier pillar in the No. 1 area of the mine.

Also under the plea agreement, the US Attorney’s Office will not bring other charges against Genwal or its associated companies, individuals, officers or directors, and particularly those related to the August 2007 accidents and the investigation.

Six miners were trapped inside the Crandall Canyon mine following a mine collapse on August 6, 2007. Ten days after the rescue attempt started, another coal outburst left three rescuers dead and injured six others.

Rescue efforts at the mine were called off and the bodies of all of those killed remain entombed in underground at the mine, which has been closed since the accident.

Referrals for the collapse’s criminal investigations were made to the Department of Justice by the US Senate. MSHA also made a formal referral to the Justice Department requesting a criminal investigation.

“We were asked to review these referrals to determine whether any criminal violations occurred during the mine accidents,” Barlow said.

“In gathering and evaluating the evidence, our office not only considered all of the potential charges that Congress and MSHA referred, but we also considered many more theories of prosecution beyond those in the referrals.”

The USAO conducted its own interviews as part of its investigation and consulted with mining experts.

“Criminal laws require a very high standard. After considering the evidence, the law, and the heavy burden of proof we must carry in court, the charges we filed today meet this high standard,” Barlow said.

“We recognize that nothing we can do will ever bring back the miners and rescuers who perished, restore the health of those who were injured during the rescue, or erase the nightmares that still haunt those who were first-hand witnesses to these tragedies. However, it is our hope that these charges, and the maximum penalties that come with them, will remind mining companies everywhere of the importance of obeying safety laws,” Barlow said.

In response to Barlow’s statement and the finalizing of the plea agreement, Genwal’s legal representative Fabian & Clendenin confirmed the operator’s guilty pleas and said that the deal reflects a lack of evidence that its conduct caused the accidents of August 6 and 16, 2007.

“Genwal has always maintained that its plan for mining the Crandall Canyon mine was safe — a belief that was shared by MSHA, which approved the plan, and the mine engineering firm on which Genwal relied.

“Resolution of this investigation avoids Genwal putting its former employees, their families, and members of the community at large through the ordeal of reliving the tragic events.”

The mother of one of the victims told the Salt Lake Tribune that the families were not surprised by the outcome but that there is anger company owner Robert Murray escaped mostly unmarked.

“We kind of figured something like that would happen,” Lucille Erickson, whose son Don was one of the six killed in the first collapse.

“[Murray] will get his rewards in the next world.”

Her husband Erick added to the paper: “I figured they’d slap [Murray’s] hands and turn him loose. We just have to live with it and forget it."

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