Federal mining regulators slapped a coal mine in southwestern Wyoming with more than two dozen safety violations this week, but the company running the mine says it plans to fight at least one of the charges.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration issued 25 citations and an order to the Jim Bridger Coal Mine east of Rock Springs for safety violations discovered during an August inspection. The agency deemed 15 of the citations significant and substantial.
The agency cited the mine for safety violations including an escape line dangling too high for all workers to reach, lack of an updated mine map and hydrants with low water pressure. One segment of the mine’s roof wasn’t properly supported, the MSHA said, and the mine’s walls in that stretch were “expelling coal and striking persons walking past.”
PacifiCorp, the mine’s majority owner, says it will challenge the MSHA over at least some of its findings.
The agency found that the company failed to properly examine and report a conveyor belt to which damage was “extensive and obvious and should have been noticed by any prudent examiner,” according to the citation notice. The agency also issued what’s known as an order regarding the conveyor, which means it found the company’s actions were worse than ordinary neglect.
Company spokesman Jeff Hymas said the company is challenging both the order and the citation. When asked to go into more detail, he referred to a company statement.
“The health and safety of our employees is of highest importance,” the company statement said. “We are continually working to improve our programs and procedures in place to help ensure compliance with MSHA regulations and the well being of our employees.”
The company may challenge the other citations, Hymas said, pending MSHA assessments and the possible assignment of fines to each citation.
The mine operator chose to stop production while changes are made “to permit all conditions to be corrected” before restarting, said MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere in an email to the Star-Tribune.
The citations are part of a nationwide mine safety sweep by the agency.
The agency began monthly surprise inspections in April 2010 after an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia killed 29 miners. The agency has since routinely inspected mines it says “merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns.”
MSHA has conducted 492 inspections and handed out 8,800 citations in just more than two years of increased activity. The agency can target a mine for high numbers of violations or closures, frequent complaints, frequent injuries or other conditions, according to a release.
Bridger Coal Co. — the company that operates the mine — is a joint venture between Pacific Minerals, a wholly-owned subsidiary of PacifiCorp, and Idaho Energy Resources, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Idaho Power. PacifiCorp holds a two-thirds share in the project.