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article imageSeventh hole to be drilled at Utah mine cave-in site

By dpa news     Aug 27, 2007 in World
Washington - Rescuers at a Utah mine where six miners have been trapped by a cave-in for two weeks were to drill a seventh hole in an effort to find the missing men, the mine owner said Sunday.
Bob Murray, co-owner of Murry Energy Corp's Crandall Canyon mine in the southwest state of Utah, had initially ruled out another hole after a sixth drilling failed to show enough space to support life.
Murray said in broadcast remarks that the Utah mine would be shut down for the time being and 170 workers would be given the chance to work at the company's other mines in Illinois and Ohio.
Murray has been under pressure from families of the missing miners to continue the search. Another three men working to tunnel through to the trapped miners died during a second tunnel collapse.
Sonny Olsen, a spokesman for the miners' families, blasted a decision several days ago to shut down the rescue efforts, saying the families believed the missing men were still alive. He urged Murray to "use every asset at his disposal to find their loved ones."
Murray has said he was not optimistic the men would be found alive.
Rescuers also planned Sunday to revisit the third and fourth holes to check for signs of life.
The death toll in the US mining industry so far this year stood at 17 nationwide. Last year, 47 workers died.
China, the world's largest coal producer, had 4,746 coal-mine fatalities last year, Xinhua News Agency reported.
The decision Sunday to drill a seventh hole was backed by Richard Stickler, head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the federal regulatory agency that in May authorized a controversial coal extraction method known as "retreat mining" at the mine.
The technique leaves the entire mountain above the mine supported only by individual columns of coal, which themselves are then extracted, causing massive cave-ins.
Stickler, a former mine company executive, was placed atop the MSHA in October 2006 by US President George W Bush in an appointment that circumvented Congress. Previously, Stickler was twice rejected by the US Senate over concerns by legislators from both parties that the mines he had managed incurred safety-violation rates at double the industry standard, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, which has been closely covering the mine story.
Shortly after Stickler's appointment, a lower-ranking MSHA official approved the plan for retreat mining, which has been badly criticized by some mine-safety experts.
Tony Oppegard, a former MSHA senior adviser and a Kentucky state mining regulator, told the Salt Lake Tribune that retreat mining at the Utah mountain posed serious risks.
"Everyone understands that in the West you have tremendous pressure on those coal pillars from the overburden, and they are subject to bursting or bursting of the ribs," Oppegard said. "In either case, that can be deadly for coal miners."
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