Coal continues to burn at Utah mine as company tries to drill for answers

Federal officials say Lila Canyon is not safe to enter and could burn for weeks or more

(Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining) Utah’s Lila Canyon coal mine, located in the Book Cliffs section of Emery County, caught fire Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022 and continues to burn as the mine operator tries to drill into the mine to help devise a plan to put out the fire burning in a column of coal.

A Utah coal mine that has been burning underground since September 20 is still too dangerous to enter and it could be weeks or even longer before the fire goes out and the mine resumes coal production, federal officials said Friday.

Mine operators are now trying to drill into the burning Lila Canyon mine in hopes of devising a plan to put out a fire that is filling the underground mine with potentially dangerous gas and indefinitely disrupting operations at the most productive coal mine. of Utah, according to the US Department. of work. While still unsure of the cause of the fire, officials are concerned the buildup of gas could cause an explosion.

The operator is Emery County Coal Resources (ECCR), an Ohio-based subsidiary of American Consolidated Natural Resources (ACNR), which did not respond to repeated requests for comment. ACNR is the reorganized company resulting from the bankruptcy filed by Murray Energy, owner of several Utah mines.

The company reported the fire Sept. 20 to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, MSHA, which immediately ordered the mine closed and all personnel evacuated.

In underground coal mines, operators cut coal seams leaving behind pillars of coal to hold up the mine ceiling. In Lila Canyon, one of these pillars caught fire, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

The BLM, meanwhile, granted emergency clearance Sept. 28 for the operator to drill up to four 4-inch-diameter boreholes needed to access the mine so its air could be sampled and flame suppressant gases injected inside, according to recently posted documents.

“Evaluation of the mine atmosphere will allow ECCR to come up with a plan to extinguish the fire by monitoring gas concentrations and possibly injecting nitrogen and/or other compounds through the holes. drilling,” says the BLM’s Sept. 28 decision, signed by the acting director of Price’s field office. Kyle Beagley. “These drillings will allow the ECCR to make the mine safe to access and repair any damage caused by the fire and ensure a return to safe operations.”

According to the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, coal mine fires have been burning for years, causing environmental damage and catastrophic social impacts.

Drilling the boreholes is an essential first step in assessing the dangers of entering the mine and developing a plan.

“To gather this information, the ECCR would use the existing road where possible or construct a temporary road to access the drill sites. Crawler-mounted equipment would be used to drill a four-inch borehole into the mine workings at each location,” the BLM documents state. “The ECCR expects the drilling equipment to occupy the drill site for approximately 7-10 days.”

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Labor Department officials provided the details. The company began drilling Thursday morning, but it has 1,200 vertical feet of rock and dirt to penetrate before it reaches inside the mine, so it could take a few days, a spokesman said. It took ACNR so long to start drilling because they had to truck in a drill rig from West Virginia.

The objective of the drilling program is to sample the mine air for the presence of three gases that are indicators of hazardous conditions.

“What are the results for oxygen and methane because we know that in combination they make a bad combination. They can be explosive and cause an explosion,” the spokesperson said. carbon monoxide, as high carbon monoxide is the indication of the heat event in the first place.”

Operating on public land in Emery County in Utah’s Book Cliffs, Lila Canyon is known as a “sponcom” mine, meaning it has a history of spontaneous combustion, department officials said. of Labor, the parent agency of the MSHA. The MSHA oversees the emergency response undertaken by the mine operator. Officials still don’t know what started the fire or how far it spread, if at all.

“Our goal is to ensure the safety of minors. But it is the responsibility of the operator in terms of submitting a plan to extinguish the fire. It could take some time,” the Labor Department spokesperson said. “As we sit here, we don’t know where [the fire] is or if it has advanced.

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