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Feds order halt to use of new mining machine

Feds order halt to use of new mining machine

Worker injured last week at Signal Peak Mine by blast of air

Signal Peak Energy
Signal Peak Energy loads its first train of coal on Sept. 10. The BNSF train, nearly a mile long, was loaded one year from the start of construction at the mine near Roundup.

ROUNDUP — The Mine Safety and Health Administration ordered Signal Peak Mine to shut down its longwall mining machine Tuesday following an accident that injured a miner last week. The mine will also be cited by MSHA for failing to report the accident immediately, an MSHA official said Wednesday.

Allyn Davis, MSHA’s manager for the Denver District, said initial information provided to MSHA by Signal Peak turned out to be “just part of the picture.”

“It was more serious than we had been told,” he said.

The injured miner, whose name has not been released, suffered broken ribs when an underground air blast threw him into the wall of the mine. He was taken by ambulance to Roundup Memorial Healthcare, where his condition was given as “fair.” He was then airlifted to Billings and, as of Monday, was recovering at a Billings hospital.

When Davis first learned of the incident Monday, he understood the miner’s injuries were not considered “potentially life-threatening,” one of the criteria used to determine the severity of an accident. That would give the mine 10 working days to report the accident to MSHA. Davis learned later, however, that the attending physician had deemed the injury “potentially life-threatening,” meaning that the mine was required to report the incident immediately.

The mine will be cited for not meeting that requirement, he said.

An MSHA inspector arrived on the site Tuesday and two engineers were en route Wednesday. Davis said the team, along with technical support based in Pennsylvania, will work through today to assess the situation and develop a plan to address the safety concerns.

“They’ll look at changes to control things better to provide for the safety of the miners,” he said.

The temporary shutdown is exclusive to the longwall machine and does not mean all mine operations at Signal Peak were ordered to cease, Davis said. It is uncertain whether Signal Peak was actively mining other sections by other means. The company did not respond to messages left by The Gazette.

Signal Peak recently installed its massive longwall mining machine, which measures 1,250 feet long and is outfitted with blades that slash coal from the underground deposit. The machine moves as it mines, leaving in its wake a void where the coal had provided natural support. Sections that have been mined are expected to collapse and the initial “cave,” as this was, is typically the largest and most dynamic. The miners, however, are theoretically protected from the roof collapse by large shields on the longwall machine. In the Dec. 23 incident, the miner was injured not by the cave-in but by a forceful concussion of air that resulted from it.

Davis said the underground air blast following the collapse at Signal Peak was “more severe than experienced in the past,” something that may be related to the size of Signal Peak’s longwall  machine.

“It’s the widest face operating in the West,” he said, “so it’s (mining) a bigger area.”

Besides causing injury to the miner, the concussion damaged controls to the underground ventilation system. That, too, should have been reported, Davis said.

MSHA’s system of assessing penalties or fines typically takes several weeks or longer, he said.

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