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Bridger Coal mine

A continuous miner is shown in front of a portal to the Bridger Underground Coal Mine in Sweetwater County in this undated photo.

Rocky Mountain Power has been cited for a state safety violation after part of a wall of coal collapsed in September and killed a miner in the Bridger Underground Coal Mine.

Jaime Olivas was untangling mesh during roof bolting, a practice that helps secure the roof from collapses and falling debris. Olivas was in front of an unsecured wall of coal.

Others miners working near Olivas say they heard a pop sound, before a chunk of the coal wall broke free and completely covered Olivas, according to an investigation by the Wyoming state inspector of mines.

Bridger Coal Company operates the underground mine on behalf of PacifiCorp, the parent company of Wyoming’s largest utility, Rocky Mountain Power. State officials found the company violated a regulation that mandates that roofs, ribs and walls must be secured in areas where miners are present.

“The employee was working in an area where the face was not supported or controlled to protect persons from the hazards related to fall of ribs or face,” the report states before suggesting corrective action.

“No work will be allowed in the pan line, except as necessary to support or protect the face until the face is secured in the work area,” the report states.

Representatives from Rocky Mountain Power did not respond to request for comment by press time.

State officials inspect the underground coal mine, which lies about 35 miles east of Rock Springs, twice a year. Federal regulators inspect the mine four times a year.

The state office does not have the authority to levy fines for health and safety violations, a spokeswoman for the department said. It issues citations and mandates changes to bring the mine into compliance.

The federal investigation of the circumstances of Olivas’ death is not complete. A request for an update on the status of the investigation was not returned by press time.

Olivas died on the way to the hospital after the mine wall rolled onto him.

The 39-year-old Rock Springs resident was conscious and complaining of back pain before leaving the mine site in a company ambulance.

The company said in earlier interviews that they chose not to air lift the miner to the hospital out of concern it would take too long. The company employs state-certified emergency management technicians and emergency medical responders and has an onsite ambulance service.

Olivas went into cardiac arrest on the way to the Memorial Hospital in Rock Springs and was given CPR by mine medics, according to the state investigation.

The company ambulance pulled over a little under halfway to Rock Springs, where it was met by a local ambulance service, Sweetwater Medics. Sweetwater personnel took over at that point, and medics performed “advanced first aid,” according to the inspector’s report.

Olivas’s death was determined to be a result of multiple blunt force injuries, according to the report.

Olivas had been a miner for more than a decade, with nine years’ experience at the Bridger mine. At the time of his death, he was a longwall section operator. He had been in the position for about two years.

The state investigation was made available to Olivas’ family before it was made public.

The state investigation team of 22 people included the chapter president from the miner’s union, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, the state mine inspector, Terry Adcock, and a number of officials from PacifiCorp, Rocky Mountain Power’s parent company. Federal officials from MSHA were also collaborators on the report.

Eight employees from Bridger Coal Company were interviewed for the investigation.

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Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner


Energy Reporter

Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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