Let me do something sure to be unpopular. Let me defend Bob Murray who owns the Crandall Mine in Huntington, Utah. Before I defend him, let me acknowledge that I have posted on this blog pieces critical of him, his performance, his defense of earthquake-induced collapse, and even his stance on global warming. But here I want to take another look at somebody who may epitomize the Shakespearean tragic hero: think Lear. Or a figure from both Shakespeare and grand opera: think Othello or MacBeth.

A bit of Murray’s history first, from the Washington Post:

Murray has been at the company's helm since he founded it 20 years ago, but he likes to remind his audiences that he is no boardroom suit. He comes from three generations of coal miners in southeastern Ohio, his father was paralyzed in a mining accident, and he himself has been injured below ground. (He pulled back his shirt to show reporters one scar this week.) To help support his family, Murray worked in mines and mowed lawns as a teenager, using a miner's hat with a lamp to allow him to work after dark. After considering medical school, he won an engineering scholarship at Ohio State University and spent the next three decades at North American Coal. He rose to chief executive but left in 1987 after, he says, clashing with the board over its plan to slash workers' pensions. He then took out a mortgage on his house to start his own company.

Surely there is something fascinating about a man of whom it can be written: “His blue-collar roots have left him with a strong grudge against coastal elites who work in air-conditioned offices and are too squeamish or out of touch to think about where the electricity comes from to power their laptops, stereos and espresso makers. "These people from California and New England who run the government have no idea what it's like for someone to put on a hard hat and go to work. They have this Olympian detachment," he said in the interview. When he went to testify on Capitol Hill this year, he recalled, "I asked them, 'Do you know what it is to carry a bucket or wear a hard hat?' And they didn't even know what a 'bucket' is. I had to explain to Nancy Pelosi that it was really a lunch I was talking about."

Earlier today I wrote a blog piece (see below) on the silliness of carbon credits. Thus I cannot but have sneaking sympathy for his views on the issue: “He is deeply skeptical of the scientific consensus that global warming is being caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, preferring to lend credence to outsider theories for climate change, such as sunspot activity or a shift of Earth's magnetic north redirecting ocean currents. He has withering criticism for fellow energy executives who are looking for ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, saying they are in it for their own gain and will harm the economy.”

He has owned the Crandall Mine for but a year. Let us assume that he took a look at the expensive consulting reports he presumably got along with ownership of the mine. Seems this is what happened:

[Crandall Mine] hired Agapito Associates Inc., a Grand Junction, Colo., engineering firm, to analyze how to safely mine the southern sections. Agapito's April 18 memo to mine co-owner and operator UtahAmerican Energy Inc. said the operators were involved in retreat mining — a common but sometimes dangerous practice that involves pulling out leftover sections and pillars of coal that hold up the roof. MSHA officials have said they approved a plan for the mine to engage in retreat mining. Murray said Monday that it was Agapito that recommended Crandall Canyon's mining plan and he asserted that it was "perfectly safe."

Let us look at Agapito’s site to see what goes on. Their client list is long and impressive. The claim 300 clients and over 2,000 domestic and international projects.

There are many publications by their staff listed at this site. Here are the abstracts of some. They quickly prove that poor old Bob Murray was wrong again, but give him credits for conviction when he says: "We've had a once-in-a-lifetime disaster here," Murray said. "This has not happened before. We have never seen seismic activity as occurred in this case." Here are the abstracts:

Dealing with coal bursts at Deer Creek

Five Stress Factors Conducive to Bursts in Utah, USA, Coal Mines
High stresses and adverse geology in deep coal mines in the state of Utah, USA, have caused numerous bursts. The larger bursts have been associated with seismic events with Richter magnitudes of 3.6, and in some cases have filled openings for lengths of 150 m. A better understanding of the mechanisms and stress levels involved in bursting is needed to help develop improved stress control design and burst mitigation methods. The geology of the area is notoriously burst-prone. The coal has poorly developed cleating and occurs in multiple seams that are often bounded by very strong roof and floor sandstone/siltstone beds. The overburden is formed by thick, competent strata with numerous sandstone channels. This geology and deep cover are the major source of high stresses, causing bursts. This paper evaluates five common stress factors responsible for burst problems: depth, channels, arching, faults, and coal thickness. It uses case study data from longwall panels with two-entry/yield pillar systems typical of deeper Utah mines. Results illustrate the importance of analyzing stress factor experience to allow a better understanding of the problem.

Interpanel Barriers for Deep Western U.S. Longwall Mining Western U.S. longwall operators face increasing challenges with optimizing ground control and productivity as mines reach greater depths and coal bursting hazards increase. Some western U.S. mines, many known to be bump-prone, achieved a successful balance between ground control and productivity by transitioning to side-by-side longwall panel mining combined with a yield pillar gateroad system. With this design, development footages could be minimized and pillar bumping averted by controlled yielding at moderate depths, generally in the range of 450 to 600 m. Over the past four decades, the yield pillar system has won wide acceptance among western mines facing pillar bursting hazards, particularly those in the Wasatch Plateau and Book Cliff coal fields of central Utah. However, recent attempts among the deepest Utah operators to mine side-by-side panels with yield pillars at depths in excess of 600 m have been met with mixed success and, in some circumstances, with serious difficulty. Challenges include violent face bursting and excessive tailgate convergence outby the face, which can be crippling to ventilation. The use of interpanel barriers, i.e. barriers left between longwall panels, offers one possible solution to mining under deep cover with bump-prone geology. Interpanel barriers have already been adopted by Utah's deepest longwall mine, and others are considering their use. The geomechanical implications of mining with and without interpanel barriers, and the competing tradeoffs between ground control and ventilation are discussed.

Effects of full-Extraction underground mining on ground and surface waters: a 25-year retrospective

Over the past 25 years, the present author has written with several co-authors a series of papers beginning with the landmark paper in the 1st International Conference on Ground Control in Mining in 1981, in turn, based upon U. S. Bureau of Mines (USBM) funded contract research managed by the author with a final report issued in 1979, all concerning this paper’s title subject, Effect of Full-Extraction Underground Mining on Ground and Surface Waters. Initially the work was a summary of British, Russian, and Hungarian experience tailored to United States strata conditions, but has evolved into a consistent and well-documented model of the behavior of strata influenced by full-extraction underground mining such as longwall coal mining. The several strata zones recognized in these works, Surface Fracture Zone, Constrained or Aquiclude Zone, Dilated Zone, Fractured Zone, and Caved Zone, have been observed by several workers in the field. The concepts presented initially 25 years ago have been adopted, rightly or wrongly, by state regulators, ground and surface water researchers, and mining practitioners. The development and utility of these concepts and recent findings will be summarized.

At least on the basis of their papers, and, I submit, on the basis of the expertise they claim on their site, Agapito is the expert. Here are their project descriptions of work they have done in the Huntington area:

Energy West Mining Company, Huntington, Utah, USA
A review of existing geotechnical and geological data was conducted to provide a basis for recommendations for the instrumentation of longwall panels in both the Deer Creek and Cottonwood Mines. The information developed was incorporated into numerical model analyses to investigate bounces and to develop recommendations for design modifications for longwall gateroads to minimize the potential for bounce occurrences.

FMC Wyoming Corporation, Green River, Wyoming, USA
A comparative stability evaluation for the East Longwall Panel 8 gateroads was made. Four different gateroad designs were analyzed, including three- and four-entry layouts. Analyses were performed using SALT4 and EXPAREA, both of which can model time-dependent salt behavior. SALT4 was used for 2D analyses of gateroad profile stresses, while EXPAREA was used to analyze vertical pillar stresses. An instrumentation program was implemented to confirm the modeling effort. Recommendations were made and adopted for longwall design improvements.

GENWAL Resources, Inc., Huntington, Utah, USA
A longwall feasibility study was conducted for deep cover mining under difficult conditions including numerical analysis, gateroad design, longwall support capacity specifications, reserves, and productivity analysis.

Utah Power & Light Company, Huntington, Utah, USA
Extensive field measurements and computer analyses were performed for the design of longwall gateroads and main entry pillar sizes for optimum stability and resource recovery in two- and three-seam longwall mining under variable cover up to 2300 ft and variable interburden between 20 to 100 ft at the Deer Creek and Wilberg Mines. Other analyses were performed for the comparison of gateroads using two- and three-entry systems and assistance provided for court hearings brought up by the labor union against the use of a two-entry system.

Utah Power & Light Company, Huntington, Utah, USA
Computer analyses and roof monitoring were conducted for support system design for long-term stability of the mains with spans reaching up to 24 ft at the Cottonwood Mine.

Then we have the roll of MSHA. They are making pronouncements, but who can believe them. Their role to date in improving U.S. mine safety has been spotty. But this piece is not about them or their failures. Suffice it to say in Murray’s defense that they seem to think the Agapito plans was good. I mean does a guy who owns that many mines have to interrogate the many expensive consultants that each and every one of his mines engages? In retrospect, maybe yes. In reality, no way.

So while we may deplore Murray’s brash style, his contrary opinions, and his take-charge attitude, I for one have a sneaking sympathy for a man who is at the pit head, fighting for his beliefs and his workers, regardless of what the elite say.