NPR logo
Work, Not Quake, May Have Caused Mine Collapse
  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12623047/12623048" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Work, Not Quake, May Have Caused Mine Collapse

U.S.

Work, Not Quake, May Have Caused Mine Collapse

Work, Not Quake, May Have Caused Mine Collapse
  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12623047/12623048" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Scientists say it is more likely that mine work itself caused the collapse of a Utah coal mine where six men are trapped. But Robert Murray, who owns the mine, attributes the collapse to an act of nature.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

The owner of a Utah coal mine has become the public face of a disaster. Amid the effort to rescue six trapped men, he's been attacking mine safety advocates and the media. We'll have more on Robert Murray in a moment.

We begin with the latest news from the collapse. It includes some clues to the question of what caused the collapse. If you believe the owner, it was an act of nature. If you believe the scientists, it was more likely the result of work in the mine itself.

NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY: A team of geologists from the University of California at Berkeley says the seismological data from the mine collapse does not match what they'd see in a natural earthquake.

Doug Dreger is the lead author of the study.

Mr. DOUG DREGER (Author): What we found is that the seismic event was in fact very different from what we typically see in earthquakes, and it seems to suggest that there was closure of an underground cavity.

BRADY: In other words, the mine collapsing. No one from Murray Energy Company, which owns the mine, was available to comment. CEO Bob Murray has emphatically maintained over the past three days that an earthquake caused the collapse and that aftershocks from it hampered rescue efforts.

In a briefing with reporters, Murray would only talk about the ongoing rescue efforts.

Mr. ROBERT MURRAY (CEO, Murray Energy Corporation): I just happened to bring a little something here that I bought out of the mine. It's what it looks like.

BRADY: Murray held two golf-ball-sized chunks of shiny black coal. He said tons of coal, just like this, sits between rescuers and the trapped miners.

Mr. MURRAY: And we'll go through this very fast to get to the men because it's loose and it's fine and it's small like this, and there are smaller pieces even than that.

BRADY: Murray says he's been worried about ventilation in the mine. But now that he has seen the area of the collapse...

Mr. MURRAY: I can tell you that I'm more optimistic than I ever was that there's ventilation back there to keep those men alive.

BRADY: Murray said crews still are removing the rubble blocking the mine; that could take a week or more. Above, he says, two drills have made significant progress boring through the 1500 feet of rock and sandstone. He thinks the two-and-a-half inch hole and another measuring eight-and-a-half inches will be completed within a day or two. That will allow rescuers to make contact with the miners if they're still alive and it will provide a way to deliver food and water to them.

Until then, residents of this mining town have scheduled gatherings every day to support each other.

Unidentified Man: Now you'll take your hats off. We'd like to have a moment of silence.

BRADY: About 200 people gathered at the rodeo grounds in Huntington for a candlelight vigil last night. They sat on rickety wooden benches under a white banner with the word hope in large letters.

Melody Sinclair's husband is a miner - not one of those trapped - but the mine collapse has clearly affected her.

Ms. MELODY SINCLAIR (Resident): Every day that your husband goes to work anywhere - I mean any tragedy or accident can happen anywhere. But when they go underground, there's no communication. That's what really makes it really hard.

BRADY: Since early Monday morning, this town has waited for the answer to one question - whether the miners are still alive. As those drills work day and night to reach the area where the miners are believed to be, the answer to that question may come as soon as this evening.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Price, Utah.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

First Contact Yields No Sign of Life in Mine Collapse

Using Robots to Mine?

Why do human beings still risk their lives burrowing miles underground and doing one of the most dangerous jobs in the world? Engineers envision a day in the not-too-distant future when robots do most of the dangerous mining work, and even help rescue trapped miners.

Rescuers drilled through to a pocket in the coal mine where six miners have been trapped, but heard no sound through a microphone that was lowered into the collapsed mine.

The mine's co-owner remained hopeful that the six men were still alive despite the silence.

"I wouldn't look at it as good or bad news. The work is not done," said Bob Murray, chairman of Murray Energy Corp.

Mining officials were able to take an air reading from the pocket and said the air quality was good, with 20.5 percent oxygen, some carbon monoxide and no methane.

"That means if they're alive, they're going to stay alive in that atmosphere," Murray said during a news conference early Friday.

The air sample was drawn more than 1,800 feet through a steel tube, which remained in the narrow hole to keep the slender lifeline open in case the miners heard a tone from the microphone and tried to respond.

The sample, however, did not pick up carbon dioxide, the gas that is exhaled from the lungs when people breathe. Still, mine officials warned that the lack of carbon dioxide did not necessarily mean that the miners were dead.

"What you got was a quick sample from a crude instrument, so you don't get all the constituents reported," said Christopher Van Bever, an attorney for Murray Energy.

The drill bit finally broke through around 10 p.m. MDT on Thursday. Two hours later, Murray and officials from the Mine Safety and Health Administration said that there was no immediate response after the drill reached the pocket.

Drilling continued on a wider hole, which could accommodate a powerful camera to provide a view inside the pocket, deliver food and water, and hopefully give a more definitive answer about the miners' fate.

Work also continued in the mine itself, where workers were slowly burrowing through the debris to try to reach the site where the miners were when the walls caved in early Monday.

"It's incredibly labor-intensive," said Rob Moore, vice president of Murray Energy.

If the trapped miners are alive, they may be sitting in inky darkness, their headlamps having burned out. Wearing thin work clothes in the 58-degree cold, they could be chilled to the bone if water is seeping into their chamber 150 stories below ground.

Murray said they are doing "everything humanly possible" to rescue them.

Murray has repeatedly insisted that an earthquake triggered the cave-in, but evidence to the contrary is mounting.

A team of geologists from the University of California at Berkeley said the seismological data from the mine collapse does not match what they would expect to see in a natural earthquake.

"What we found is that this seismic event was is in fact very different from what we typically see in earthquakes and it seems to suggest that there was a closure of an underground cavity," said Doug Dreger, the chief author of the study from Berkeley Seismological Laboratory.

In other words, the seismic data was the result of the mine itself collapsing, not a triggering earthquake. No one from Murray Energy Corp., which owns the mine, was immediately available to comment on the study.

The cause of the collapse could be important in determining who is responsible and whether safety measures were adequate.

In a briefing with reporters, Murray would only talk about the ongoing rescue efforts.

Murray held two golf-ball-sized chunks of shiny black coal. He said tons of such coal sits between rescuers and miners.

"We'll go through this very fast to get to the men because it's loose and it's fine and it's small like this," he said.

He said he has been worried about ventilation in the mine, but now that he has seen the area of the collapse.

"I can tell you that I'm more optimistic than I ever was, that there's ventilation back there to keep those men alive," Murray said.

He said crews still were removing the rubble blocking the mine, but that it could still take a week or more. Two drills have made significant progress boring through the hundreds of feet of rock and sandstone. Murray thinks a 2 1/2-inch hole and another measuring 8 1/2inches will be completed within a day or two.

Until then, residents of this mining town have scheduled daily gatherings of mutual support.

About 200 people gathered at the rodeo grounds in Huntington, near the mine, for a candlelight vigil Wednesday night. They sat on rickety wooden benches under a white banner with the word "hope" in large letters.

Melody Sinclair's husband is a miner - not one of those trapped — but the mine collapse has clearly affected her.

"Every day that your husband goes to work anywhere — any tragedy or accident can happen anywhere. But when they go underground, there's no communication. That's what makes it really hard," she said.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

Second Lab Doubts Quake Caused Mine Disaster

A second scientific laboratory has cast doubt on claims that an earthquake caused the Utah mine collapse that has trapped six miners. The University of California's Berkeley Seismology Laboratory says that the seismic signals that came from the mine area at the time of the accident are "consistent with the collapse of an underground cavity" and not a natural earthquake.

One of the owners of the Crandall Canyon mine, Bob Murray of Murray Energy Corp., has said he is certain that an earthquake caused the collapse.

That claim has been challenged by seismologist Walter Arabasz at the University of Utah, who said preliminary data suggested that the 3.9 magnitude earthquake measured by nearby instruments was the result of a collapse.

Arabaz's view has now been seconded by the California team, led by seismologist Doug Dreger. In an analysis posted late Wednesday on the the laboratory's Web site, the team says the seismic waveforms produced in Utah do not resemble those produced by natural earthquakes, but are "consistent with the closure of a roughly horizontal crack." The Utah mine includes long horizontal tunnels.

Dreger also told NPR that minor aftershocks recorded since the accident could be the result of the collapse, and do not necessarily indicate a natural earthquake. Murray has said the aftershocks are typical of a natural earthquake.

Mine safety experts say the question of what exactly caused the mine collapse could play a role in determining liability and adequacy of safety measures at the mine.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.