The operator of the Utah mine that collapsed five years ago and killed nine people has reached a $949,351 settlement with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) over safety violations.
Genwal Resources Inc., an affiliate of Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp., denied any of the violations led to the deadly collapse, which flattened a section of the Crandall Canyon mine, which was as large as 63 football fields. From the start, Murray Energy chief Bob Murray said a natural earthquake triggered the cave-in.
MSHA Chief Joe Main disputed the earthquake theory on Thursday and said Genwal admitted it thinned a coal barrier it should have left standing to hold up the mine. He said the company also failed to revise a roof control plan after ignoring early signs of trouble.
“Our investigation found that it was not an earthquake, but the mining plan and the failure to act” that caused the collapse, Main said.
Genwal accepted 17 safety violations, with four of them contributing to the cave-in, he said. The agency dropped another 3 violations related to the collapse of a coal pillar in another section of the mine five months earlier.
“They allowed the mine to deteriorate and ignored warning signs that contributed to the tragedy,” Main said.
The $949,351 fine was the third largest ever assessed for a U.S. coal mining operation, said Patricia Smith, the U.S. Department of Labor’s chief lawyer. MSHA levied a $10.8 million fine against the operator of West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine for a 2010 explosion that killed 29 workers. It fined Aracoma Coal Co. $4.2 million for a 2006 explosion that killed two West Virginia miners.
Genwal and related companies previously settled wrongful death lawsuits, together with criminal charges that carried a $500,000 fine.
The collapse at Crandall Canyon was so powerful it registered as a 3.9-magnitude earthquake. It instantly entombed six miners nearly a half-mile underground. Their bodies remain in the wreckage. Another cave-in 10 days later killed two rescuers and a federal inspector during a frantic effort to tunnel their way to the trapped miners.
Genwal’s mining engineers, Grand Junction, Colo.-based Agapito Associates Inc., are fighting a separate $220,000 fine for what the government said was a faulty analysis of the mine’s design. Agapito insists MSHA has no jurisdiction over consulting engineers.
Genwal said the company and its managers “have always maintained that they believed the plan for mining the Crandall Canyon mine was safe — a belief shared by MSHA, who approved the plan, and the mine engineering firm on which Genwal relied.”
In a lengthy report issued a year after the collapse, MSHA said the Crandall Canyon was “destined to fail” because of instability problems. But MSHA’s parent company, the Department of Labor, lambasted the mining agency for lax oversight and its handling of the fatal rescue effort. Six people on the rescue team suffered injury in addition to the three killed.