Federal mining officials have asked prosecutors to decide whether criminal charges are warranted in the deaths of nine people in last year’s collapse of the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah. The Mine Safety and Health Administration has been investigating two cave-ins in August 2007 at Crandall Canyon that killed six miners and three rescuers. MSHA already has fined Genwal Resources Inc., a subsidiary of Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp., $1.34 million for alleged violations that directly contributed to the deaths of six miners. Agapito Associates Inc., a Grand Junction, Colo., mining engineering consultant, was fined $220,000 for an allegedly faulty analysis of the mine’s design. These were the largest fines ever imposed on a U.S. coal mining operation. Six miners were trapped on August 6th in a cave-in and remain entombed more than 1,500 feet below ground. Three rescuers, including a government mine safety inspector, were killed in a second collapse on August 16th while trying to tunnel to the men. Richard E. Stickler, acting assistant secretary of labor for MSHA stated:
Through its investigation of the tragic accidents last year at Crandall Canyon, MSHA determined that the operator and its engineering consultants demonstrated reckless disregard for safety. MSHA has referred this case for possible criminal charges.
The U.S. Attorney in Utah has requested that the Labor Department, which oversees MSHA, halt its civil proceedings dealing with Crandall Canyon until its investigation is complete. A judge with the federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission — which handles all MSHA citations, fines and cases — has yet to rule on the request. MSHA has said the mine was “destined to fail” because the mining company made critical miscalculations and didn’t report early warning signs. In addition, MSHA itself was faulted by its parent agency, both for lax oversight before the collapse and for its handling of the fatal rescue effort.
In May, Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, made a criminal referral to the Justice Department on the Crandall Canyon disaster. Information from both Miller’s committee and MSHA’s report on the twin collapses will factor into decisions about possible criminal prosecution. UtahAmerican Energy Inc., a subsidiary of Murray Energy, owns the mine.
Source: CNN and Associated Press
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