Energy Blend: Coal production is high, but death and fire plague Deserado Mine | CraigDailyPress.com

Energy Blend: Coal production is high, but death and fire plague Deserado Mine

Fire and death have once again dealt a double blow to a mine in Northwest Colorado.

The Deserado Mine, operated by Blue Mountain Energy, sits only 10 miles east of the Colorado-Utah border.

For the second time in 20 years the mine was temporarily closed by fire, and a few months later, an employee lost his life in an accident.

Just before 3 p.m. Sunday, June 11, someone started a fire about 10 miles north of Rangely.

Dubbed the Dead Dog Fire, it was fanned by high winds, rapidly burning through dry brush and chaparral and destroying almost 18,000 acres before it was contained.

About 24 hours after the fire started, it forced the evacuation of about 50 people from Deserado Mine, on the fire’s eastern flank, according to Fire Information Officer Dawn Sanchez. Some personnel remained on scene to work to try to protect the mine from the approaching flames.

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Two months later, another tragedy struck, when miner Jason Stevens, 32, of Vernal, Utah, was crushed and killed by part of a steel structure he had been dismantling. Stevens left a wife and son.

Both fire and death have impacted the mine before.

In January 1996, another fire temporarily closed the mine.

Then, on Oct. 29 of the same year, Ted Munford, a surface mechanic for the mine, was killed when the raised bed of the Euclid haul truck he was driving struck an overpass at the mine, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration report on the accident.

The disasters of 2017 have not slowed production, however.

At the end of the third quarter, the mine had produced more than 1.7 million tons of coal, up from the roughly 1.3 million tons produced in 2016, but down from the 2015 high of more than 2 million tons.

Coal produced by the mine is shipped via private railroad line to Deseret Power's Bonanza Power Plant, south of Vernal, Utah.

That plant is slated to close about 2020 as a result of legal settlements concluded in October 2016 which limited the operation to burning only 20 million more tons of coal.

Closure of the plant won't necessarily mean closure of the mine, as the current lease held for underground mine operations will see production continue to 2030 and possibly beyond, said David Crabtree, general counsel for Blue Mountain Energy in 2016.

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.

Deserado Mine safety violations

• 2017 through Oct. 4
Violations: 218
Injuries: one operator injury and one fatal injury
Injury rate compared to national rate: not yet available
Fines paid: more than $61,000

• 2016
Violations: 262
Injuries: one operator injury
Injury rate compared to national rate: 0.63 versus 3.43
Fines paid: more than $207,000

• 2015
Violations: 283
Injuries: four operator injuries
Injury rate compared to national rate: 2.17 versus 3.15
Fines paid: more than $136,000

• 2014
Violations: 189
Injuries: 10 operator injuries, one contractor injury
Injury rate compared to national rate: 6.07 versus 3.31
Fines paid: more than $107,000

• 2013
Violations: 100
Injuries: seven operator injuries
Injury rate compared to national rate: 4.31 versus 3.16
Fines paid: more than $43,000

• 2012
Violations: 247
Injuries: 10 operator injuries
Injury rate compared to national rate: 5.86 versus 3.24
Fines paid: more than $159,000

• 2011
Violations: 288
Injuries: one operator injury
Injury rate compared to national rate: 0.67 versus 3.44
Fines paid: more than $282,000

• 2010
Violations: 212
Injuries: nine operator injuries
Injury rate compared to national rate: 5.29 versus 3.64
Fines paid: more than $233,000

Source: Mine Safety and Health Administration