Our View: Mine citation causes concern

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— Last week's federal citation of Twentymile Coal Co. is cause for immediate concern and demands a strong, clear response from mine officials, especially in light of recent coal mine-related tragedies elsewhere in the country.

Twentymile Coal Co.'s Foidel Creek Mine on Routt County Road 27 employs more than 500 workers from across the region. These workers are our friends, neighbors and family members. Perhaps that's why it was so disconcerting to learn that the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration cited Twentymile on Sept. 19 for failing to submit an Emergency Response Plan that complies with the requirements of the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act, approved by Congress in June 2006.

This statement from the MSHA is particularly troubling:

"MSHA has approved Emergency Response Plans for all but one of the 455 operating underground coal mines in the United States. The Foidel Creek Mine is the single remaining underground coal mine without an approved Emergency Response Plan. Plans must address post-accident communications, tracking, lifelines and increased air supplies for trapped miners."

The risks of coal mining have been horrifyingly apparent in recent months.

The Aug. 6 collapse at the Crandall Canyon coal mine in Utah led to the deaths of six workers and three rescuers. In March, two miners died in a fire at a West Virginia coal mine. An explosion in January 2006 killed 12 coal miners at the Sago mine, also in West Virginia.

According to MSHA statistics, there have been 24 fatalities at coal mines this year, and 47 in 2006. We have been fortunate, and diligent, in Routt County - there have been no deaths at the mine since at least 1995, the earliest year with available data.

Credit for that record and for safety efforts at Twentymile is certainly due to St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, which has owned the mine since 2004 and describes itself as the world's largest coal company. Peabody says it takes pride in safety efforts at the mines it operates in the U.S., Australia and Venezuela. Twentymile not only produces a vital resource, but it is also a huge contributor to the Northwest Colorado economy and local charities.

We believe a stronger response is needed in the wake of last week's federal citation.

"Twentymile believes it has submitted a very progressive plan and believes MSHA has approved similar plans at other operations," Peabody spokesman Derrell Carter said last week. "Twentymile continues to work with the agency via its formal review process to come to a resolution that meets our collective standards for the maximum safety of our employees. We are surprised that MSHA has chosen to issue a press release while the matter is still pending."

Pending or not, it is hard to fault the MSHA for shining light on what it believes is an inadequate emergency plan. The stakes are simply too high. Twentymile officials need to present a publicly-accessible emergency plan that meets, if not exceeds, federal requirements and ensures the safety of our workers.

There is no reason to wait for the canary - by then, it will be too late.

Comments

ckg 7 years ago

Thank you for posting this story. . Something needs to be done immediately. The miners work long shifts, miles under the ground. They have safety meetings often enough, but if the mine collapses in any area, and they don't have the proper Emergency System,,,,well then I guess we know what happens to those in that area. They will soon be working 12 hour shifts, which is absolutely ridiculous. Several of the miners drive from the Craig area and the Yampa area. Not only are they adding 2 hours a day to a dark underground shift, which is very exhausting, but the driving time back and forth adds on a couple of hours to their day. We are just waiting for an accident to happen. Production is great, but the safety of the people mining the coal should come first.

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Queenie 7 years ago

To the Steamboat Pilot: I suggest you dive into your facts in more detail and add some comparisons between Twentymile and other mines across this great land of ours. Maybe your comparisions will give you some relativity to this situation. I suggest you talk to some of the miners. I strongly suggest you talk to some miners who have been at Twentymile 10 years or more. Do they feel safe? Do you think they don't know the issues and concerns?

Perhaps MSHA is setting an example? Have you REALLY sought first to understand the situation in its entirety and relative to other mines?

No doubt the mine must comply with safety standards according to MSHA. Are they doing this? I don't have the answer. Have you read and understood the MSHA regulations? Have you been underground at Twentymile to REALLY know what it all means? It's an amaing place.

As a wife of a miner my complete interest is in the safety of my husband at work. Am I worried about my husband when he goes to work? Of course, it's an inherently dangerous job by nature. Am I concerned that management doesn't care about his safety? No.

Again, I only ask that you really seek first to truly understand.

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