On Feb. 17, the United States Mining Safety and Health Administration released an update on the status of the Westridge mine. The release included a chronological detailing of the events that led up to the current idling of the underground coal production facility.
According to the Department of Labor document, the Westridge mine experienced a series of three separate "bounces" on Jan. 24, 26, and 31. The mine was issued a "k-order" or work stoppage following each event. After the third "bounce," which resulted in the injury of a miner, MSHA issued an order to withdraw from the affected section until Feb. 7 at which time the safety and health administration modified but did not lift the closure order to allow a longwall shearer to be operated remotely from a specific location.
"The modification allowed for an additional 240 feet of mining," said the release. "Once that area was mined, MSHA re-evaluated the effectiveness of the company's plan and determined that there was still significant evidence that the likelihood of continued bouncing on the face would have the potential of injuring miners."
Comments released from UtahAmerican's consultants disagree with the MSHA ruling.
"The company's engineers and experts believe that removing the longwall at the location directed by MSHA would be very dangerous," said their Feb. 14 statement.
According to the UtahAmerican release, the safety and health administration's senior agency representative has been given incorrect information from MSHA representatives at the mine site, which could jeopardize the safety of their employees.
Syd S. Peng the current professor of mining engineering at West Virginia University spoke on the company's behalf, stating, "it is safer for the Westridge Resource employees to mine the remainder of longwall panel rather than to recover the longwall in the current location as mandated by MSHA officials in Washington, D.C. "Based on the current conditions in the tailgate and considering the success of the company's remote mining system, I believe the safety of the miners is better served by continued mining."
Despite the company's position on Feb. 13, MSHA notified mine officials that the current method of mining presented unacceptable risks to miners.
Coal bursts continued to take place on the longwall face, according to the MSHA release. Significant bounce activity occurred on Feb. 12 and 13; in one instance damaging the longwall shearing machine and indicating conditions underground still presented safety issues.
"The k-order, which was modified on Feb. 13, continues to preclude additional mining beyond the area most recently mined," stated the MSHA document.
Although the two entities are at odds concerning the best solution to the safety issue, talks continue as the company and safety administration attempt to come to an agreement.
"District 9 officials have again spoken with company representatives this afternoon," concluded the Feb. 17 document issued by the federal agency.