MSHA Shuts Kentucky Mine Over Coal Fire, Other Hazards

By VICKI SMITH | January 27, 2012

A Kentucky mine was shut down after federal inspectors found two unsecured cases of explosives near a burning pile of coal, as the government issued 174 citations and 19 orders at troubled coal mines during December.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration said Wednesday it issued 32 citations and 12 orders against Coal Creek Mining LLC’s No. 2 Mine in Floyd County, Ky. Inspectors found a 5- by 10-foot coal pile on fire about 23 feet from two cases of explosives outside the mine and issued an imminent danger order.

The key to the explosives cache was lying on top.

The Associated Press couldn’t find telephone listings for either Coal Creek Mining or its principal, George Chris Waugh.

Inspectors say they also found a 5-gallon oil bucket full of burning coal and other materials near a portal in the mine and loose coal up to 30 inches deep under conveyor belts and near ignition sources. The mine was inadequately dusted with pulverized limestone to prevent explosions, and MSHA said the operator also failed to use the approved ventilation plans. Explosive coal dust was 2 to 4 inches deep in places.

More unwarrantable failure orders were issued for inadequate hazard examinations, including on-shift conveyor belt examinations and weekly inspections of the return air course and electrical equipment. After the December inspection, MSHA issued two more orders against Coal Creek for failing to fully correct the problems.

“It is troubling that, after all this time, MSHA inspectors continue to find such serious hazards and some mine operators allow such conditions to exist,” said agency director Joseph Main. “We will continue to use all the enforcement tools at our disposal to combat noncompliance.”

MSHA increased inspections at mines with a poor compliance history after the 2010 explosion that killed 29 men in West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine. Since then, it’s conducted a total of 387 impact inspections, resulting in a total of 6,931 citations, 701 orders and 23 safeguards.

MSHA also issued 53 citations and five orders in December against Clark Mining Inc.’s No. 3 mine, and 25 citations and two orders against Bell County Coal Corp’s Jellico No. 1, both in Kentucky.

In all, five mines registered double-digit violations in December, including S&H Mining Inc. in Tennessee, which was issued 22 citations, and Utah’s West Ridge Resources mine, with 11 citations.

MSHA also issued 112 citations and 16 orders at metal and nonmetal mines last month, more than half of them at Hecla Limited’s Lucky Friday, a silver mine in Shoshone County, Idaho. Hecla was issued 59 citations and 15 orders, while independent contract Cementation USA Inc. was issued 22.

That mine was shut down Jan. 6, resulting in the layoffs of 185 workers, and it remained closed as of Tuesday, when Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter said he would MSHA to hold a town hall meeting to explain its decision.

Lucky Friday is one of the nation’s deepest underground mines, and two miners died there in 2011. In December, seven miners were trapped by a roof fall, and three of them were injured.

The December violations included failure to maintain ground support systems, failure to inspect, test and maintain shafts, and failure to keep steel structures clean of hazardous materials.

Several areas of the mine lacked two separate escape ways and explosive materials were improperly located, among other things, MSHA said.

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