Students look into mine safety

By By Ana Breton

By Ana Breton

When the Crandall Canyon Mine collapsed during the summer, most students turned to their televisions as the events unfolded: six miners were killed after the underground mine caved in, and three others died during a rescue attempt.

Many wondered what had caused the tragic event and how it would change mining in Utah.

Thirteen U students are directly involved in the effort to improve the mining industry as part of the Pro Bono Initiative in the S.J. Quinney College of Law. During the volunteer project, students compiled data about mine safety procedures, inspections and rescue efforts in Utah and other states with the help of Scott Matheson Jr., a professor at the law school and chairman of the Utah Mine Safety Commission. The data helped the commission solidify the information in the report and recommendations packet given to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who created the commission after the mine collapse.

Utah lawmakers and Huntsman consider the commission’s 45 recommendations and focus on improving mining education, procedures and safety in the state.

“You hear about tragedies. You hear the news reports. But you’re wondering ‘Should there have been something more? Why wasn’t there more done?'” said Colleen Witt, a second-year law student. “But to actually find research and put together reports and present it really makes you feel that you are making a difference.”

As part of the class — which was supposed to end last semester, but continued through Winter Break because commission meetings were stretched until January — students compiled information about mining in 13 states.

Witt said they found that although other states such as Illinois and Indiana had inspections monthly, Utah had none. Also, students found that although most states they researched had a state mining plan review enabled, Utah did not.

During the research process, students learned about mining nationwide through the Internet and by actually talking to industrial leaders in other states. Second-year student Daniel O’Bannon talked with a man who is responsible for mine safety in Ohio.

“Talking to him helped me understand the spectrum of this state and the big picture of what the state is doing as far as mine safety,” O’Bannon said. “This is noteworthy…by doing this and legal research, students are helping the safety commission make Utah better when it comes to mine safety.”

Andrew Morgan, a second-year law student, researched safety violations in mines in several states including Utah. He found that the Crandall Canyon Mine had been cited for more than 100 different types of violations stretching five years before the accident occurred on Aug. 6.

“And a lot of those violations are significant,” Morgan said.

This kind of information is what helped shape the recommendations made by the commission. However, Witt stressed that although the students helped collect information for the commission, they are not pushing any recommendations in particular.

Partaking in the class gave students a chance to get real-life experience, said Michael Power, a second year law student.

“Just being a part of it was a chance to contribute to something real beyond everyday books experience,” Power said. “If the commission had any leftover questions, we just chased after them. It was a really good experience.”

Power said that before enrolling in the class, the closest he had gotten to the field of mining is having an uncle who is a petroleum geologist. Witt had no connection at all.

“I knew absolutely nothing (about mining),” Witt said. “I didn’t even know we had coal mining in the state. I came to Utah a year before I started law school, so I didn’t know anything about mines until Crandall Canyon collapsed. Until then, I thought all the mines back were back East in Pennsylvania.”

However, the experience of compiling and presenting information to the commission helped her realize that even students can help when it comes to statewide issues, she said.

“It’s good to know that what we did made a difference,” Witt said. “We know what we did helped, and that’s a good feeling.”

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