Crandall Canyon to be sealed and closed

AS THE world awaits the results showing any signs of life from a fifth borehole that broke through at Utah’s Crandall Canyon early Wednesday, mine co-owner Robert Murray said he will not continue to mine there.

Donna Schmidt

Contrary to a statement earlier this week by Murray Energy’s Rob Moore, Murray told various media including National Public Radio that the operation will never again see production.

“This mine is going to be sealed and closed,” he said, adding that his mind was made up days ago.

Murray also explained his brief disappearance form the public eye to the Associated Press, explaining that he “came apart” emotionally after last Thursday’s cave-in that killed three and injured six.

“I was under a doctor’s care for a couple days," he said.

As for his disappearance from the microphone, "I didn't desert anybody," he said, reacting to those who have taken his absence as neglect of the industry and of the injured and deceased miners’ families.

“I've been living on this mountain every day, living in a little trailer.”

In fact, he told the news service that he was on the front lines after the collapse, rushing under in street clothes to begin digging out the men who were buried under five feet of debris.

“I never hesitated to go in there. I was the first man in and the last man out," he said.

After proclaiming that the mine will close, he reacted to a statement Monday by the United Mine Workers of America that called his and the company’s plans to potentially reopen the operation “greedy” and “callous”.

“They're twisting it all around to discredit me and my company,” he said.

He went on to call the mountain over Crandall Canyon “evil” and said that safety to rescue crews have to take priority.

“We're not going to recover dead bodies if it endangers the life of another human being,” Murray told the Deseret Morning News.

“We had nine heroes killed or injured Thursday night. We're not going to do that anymore."

Murray added that the miners from Crandall Canyon have been transferred to the operator’s other area mines, Tower and West Ridge.

“I told MSHA when I came out that night, with blood on my hands, that it's an evil mountain, it's alive and I will never go back in there,” he said.

“I'm not going back in the mine, and no one ever said we would.”

While underground efforts have been called off, vertical borehole efforts will continue even if the news from the newest borehole isn’t positive.

“I'm going to drill until we have no more places to drill,” Murray told NPR.

“But it's very likely that the miners are trapped and we'll not get them out.”

The six workers still unaccounted for at the mine, part of the Genwal complex owned by Murray Energy division Utah American, are Louis Alonso Hernandez, 23; Manuel Sanchez, 41; Kerry Allred, 57; Carlos Payan, 20s; Brandon Phillips, 24; and Don Erickson, 50.

The three rescuers who were killed last Thursday were US Mine Safety and Health Administration inspector Gary Jensen, Brandon Kimber and Dale Ray Black. Black’s funeral was held Tuesday.

Mining standards: Where are we?

In response to a question put forth by International Longwall News on whether mine rescue protocol, technology and training standards are where we need them to be at this time, experts proclaimed that time and enforcement are both of the essence if we are going to work towards a safer industry.

“The MINER Act of 2006 did a fairly good job of closing the gap on technology and improving training requirements. What they failed to do was require that it happen ‘now’,” said the United States Mine Rescue Association’s Rob McGee.

“Allowing 18 months to three years for the fulfilment of the requirements is questionable [and] communications and tracking capabilities won't be realised until June 2009. This is unacceptable.

“If this was in place now, officials wouldn't have to guess where the drilling should occur, as is the case in Utah.”

McGee also urged regulators to look at adequately addressing their emergency operations and response systems with regards to providing operations with the needed equipment and resources in a time such as this one.

“Their 30-year-old technology, which has for the most part been unproven, direly needs to be upgraded, at any cost,” he said.

Regulations must also be kept ahead of the curve, said an East Coast educator. “We need to have better rules as to when rescuers’ lives are risked to save other miners,” he said.

“The rescuers at Crandall Canyon deserve all of our respect. God bless those who died at Crandall Canyon trying to save their fellow miners.”

Another expert concurred, adding that the motivation and expertise is most certainly there for the industry to come together and find answers successfully.

“I am a coal miner, even though I haven’t worked underground for 11 years. I would still be there but physical disabilities keep me on the surface,” he said.

“I will never give up on this industry. The people in it are smart, some brilliant. We can find our way out of these dark ages together.”

Keep watching International Longwall News for further updates on this story, including experts’ feedback on the need for more or less public perception and involvement.