Mine safety hits home

Energy producers address hot topic

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Twenty-two people died in coal mine accidents last year. Twenty-six have died already this year.

With most of those perishing at underground mines, operations manager D.L. Lobb wanted to inform community members about what Twentymile Coal Company is doing to protect its employees. He did so at the quarterly Northwest Colorado Energy Producers Association on Thursday night at the Steamboat Yacht Club.

"The thing I'm most proud of is our safety record," Lobb said, especially considering Twentymile is the fourth-largest coal producer in the nation. Last year, the mine produced 9.6 million tons.

"We've been ahead of the game, but we can always be better," he said.

To do that, Twentymile is spending more on its employees' safety. The company rec--ently spent $2 million on new self-rescue air units, required to help coal miners breathe in a smoky situation.

"We've bought a lot of stuff," Lobb said. "Most people have in underground mining."

Lobb said the mine had to buy enough equipment to supply workers with oxygen along the eight-mile stretch from the center of the mine to fresh air.

Mine officials also are purchasing additional miles of lifeline that workers can follow to safety in an emergency situation. Miners currently use devices that allow for one-way communication to workers underground.

Lobb said the mine also is considering purchasing rescue chambers, or units that can hold up to 20 people and enough air, food and water for them to survive for four days.

"It'd be great if we had those so we had a safe place people can go, and we know where they are, and survive," Lobb said.

He said recent legislation is pushing for stricter regulation in underground mines, but that sometimes, those rules aren't practical. So mine officials have to be creative in the way they implement policy to make it pragmatic for everyday operation, Lobb said.

"We all want to do things that make sense to keep people from getting hurt," he said. "But to do things for just a political purpose is not really right in our minds."

Mark Beauchamp, mine rescue trainer for Twentymile, said he tries to stay focused on the issue at hand by practicing.

"Rescue training is like homeowners insurance," Beauchamp said. "You hope you never use it. But if you need it, you better have it."

Joni Voloshin, president of the Energy Producers Association, said she was pleased to learn about underground mining safety at the meeting.

"There are lots of questions after the recent (West Virginia) mine disasters," Voloshin said. "And being able to see their equipment and seeing what a nice job they're doing right here in Colorado is great."

The next Northwest Colorado Energy Producers Association is Aug. 3 at the Holiday Inn of Craig. The sponsor is Colowyo Mine.

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