A new report released by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration indicates a mining company tried to expand a Harrison County coal-slurry impoundment faster than was considered to be safe, which resulted in the death of dozer operator Markel Koon, 58, of Shinnston in November 2012.
MSHA has cited Consolidation Coal Co. for three violations following the investigation into the collapse that trapped Koon inside a dozer cab for days under several feet of slurry at the Robinson Run Mine in Harrison County. Slurry impoundments hold waste fluids from washing coal and typically contain fine pieces of coal and rock, which are suspended in water. Koon was operating a Caterpillar D6T low-ground-pressure model dozer on the upstream outslopes of the western saddle disk of the pond at the time of the incident. The dozer was oriented upslope, facing the west. Witnesses saw the dozer sinking into the impoundment until it was submerged. The top of the cab of the dozer was located at a depth of approximately 25 feet and was not removed from the impoundment, according to the federal report. After several days, crews were able to cut through the top of the dozer cab and retrieve Koon's body. Koon had worked for CONSOL for nearly 38 years.
MSHA determined that the basic causes of the incident were correctable through management controls. The construction of the western saddle dike was not performed in accordance with the approved plan and crews continued working, ignoring warnings that the site was becoming unstable. The load of the embankment exceeded the strength of the coal waste underneath, said MSHA in the report. The mine operator also continued to place fill on the saddle dike after additional stability analyses indicated a factor of safety lower than specified in the approved plan.
Ohio-based Murray Energy purchased the mine from Consolidation Coal Co. in December 2013, along with several others. Murray Energy renamed the mine as ''The Harrison County Coal Company's Harrison County Mine'. The acquisition also included the McElroy, Shoemaker, Blacksville, Loveridge mines, along with coal reserves, related river transportation and dock facilities, and other assets.