Report: Utah Coal Mine was Not Secure

Wednesday, December 18, 2013 @ 03:12 PM gHale

The ceiling of a Utah coal mine did not have enough support and that was the cause of a collapse of a tunnel that claimed the life of a machine operator, federal regulators said.

The collapse killed Elam Jones, 29, March 22 in Carbon County about 10 miles west of Huntington, said U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration after it released its report.

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Rhino Resource Partners LP didn’t have enough 60-inch bolts drilled into the ceiling to keep it from falling down, and the bolts failed, the federal agency said in the report released Monday.

The danger should have been clear because the tunnel started caving in sideways first, accident investigators said. Their report also found a mobile roof support system used with mining machines was not over the active mining area.

The company ended up getting several safety citations and then had to revise their roof-control plan.

The incident hit Utah’s coal mining community because Jones had avoided a coal mine disaster five years earlier inside a different mine a few miles away.

Jones’s helper, Dallen McFarlane, suffered an injury in the same rock fall in March. He told investigators he heard the roof pop and the roof bolts break and was trapped — and protected — by a cavity of fallen rock.

Jones was using a grinding machine to chew into an 8-foot seam of coal when a sandstone layer above broke free. It was already working its way loose. Investigators found a 3-inch gap separating it from bedrock, putting extra pressure on the retaining bolts.

The 7-ton slab was up to 20 inches thick and about 16 feet long and 8 feet wide, and it fell into smaller pieces.

Rhino Resource Partners takes about 1,200 tons of coal a day from the Castle Valley Mine No. 4.

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