The Bob we can’t afford to trust

Utah Gov. John Huntsman has ordered an immediate statewide safety investigation of all active mining operations being conducted by Murray Energy Corporation and its subsidiaries.

by Paul Hamilton

I am sure that many a college student, unemployed welfare mother and, I would guess, the elderly en masse are going to sorely miss a staple of daytime entertainment and psuedo-popular culture in the person of the durable but oh-so effervescent Mr. Bob Barker. That classically tanned, good-looking, sliver-haired gentleman with an appetite for life and even greater taste for the young ladies has been hosting a television game show longer than I have been alive, and he is now finally retiring.

I guess he’s moving on to wherever former game-show hosts, the likes of Richard Dawson (“Family Feud”); Jim Perry (“Card Sharks”); Ralph Edwards (“Truth or Consequences” and “This Is Your Life”); Monty Hall (“Let’s Make A Deal”); Wink Martindale (“High Rollers” and “Tic-Tac-Dough”); Gene Rayburn (“Match Game”); and, of course, St. Paul’s own Jim Lang (“The Dating Game”) go.

Even with quite a bit of titillating controversy during his tenure hosting “The Price is Right,” “Bob,” as he is affectionately known by millions of his fans, always came off as being credible and as if he actually cared about the contestants on his show. And we as viewers were witness to his seemingly genuine happiness for their victories as well as sympathizing with their agony in defeat.

In addition to being a huge Bob Barker fan, I am also an ardent news junkie and self-appointed commentator on all that is either good or evil in the world. Consequently, it has been utterly impossible for me to miss the recent deluge of local and national news reports relating to the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster in Utah.

I couldn’t help but find myself somewhat riveted from time to time since Aug. 6 over the recent in-depth CNN, MSNBC and Fox News coverage of this latest mining disaster. And from the very beginning the obvious antagonist in this unfortunate saga became ever and ever clearer in the person of Mr. Bob Murray (a.k.a. the Anti-Bob) of the Murray Energy Corporation and its subsidiary The Ohio Valley Coal Company.

Seemingly with little or no forethought and with the grace of bull (no, not a bull, just bull) in a china shop, Anti-Bob set to work trying to establish his spin on the catastrophic event, stating that “This was a tragic accident due to seismic activity in the region, we as a company have done nothing wrong and everything right; in fact, our safety record at this mine is better than the national average.”

And on top of this, Anti-Bob seemed to be relishing his 15 minutes of fame in the national news media spotlight, by at first taking every kind of interview from any and every possible national news organization, including a CNN reporter who was ushered nearly 2000 feet underground to where the rescue coal miners were working and even got a chance to record on videotape one of these so-called act-of-God seismic activity events.

Anti-Bob must have been calculating what the best way to apparently show his personal and his company’s concern in addition to their concerted effort when it comes to trapped miners? Oh, and if some seismic activity happens to take place while we are down there with the cameras, well all the better, so then everyone can see that it is just not their fault.

At the time Ant-Bob was even quoted as saying, “I have been down here all night, the progress is slow, not going nearly as fast as I would like. But we remain optimistic and will not stop until we reach the trapped miners. Also, the families are holding up remarkably well, they are very strong and special people. And we are looking after them in a private secluded location,” (I started to wonder, just for a moment, if perhaps Vice President Dick Cheney was there, too.) “and briefing them as much as every three hours on our progress. In fact, I have been briefing them every three hours and will continue to do so.”

Oh no, look out Anti-Bob. We have just entered a Bill O’Reilly type of “No-Spin Zone,” and in here we only engage in giving out the double truth, Ruth. So it is in this new spirit of unadulterated honest reality, that we now begin to tear down the walls of half-truths, half-hearted concern, spin, dishonesty, and perhaps the occasional attempt at lawsuit-taming misinformation, which has permeated your unfortunate involvement in helping to manage this disastrous occurrence.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Anti-Bob insists that his company did not change the mining plan at the Crandall Canyon Mine after purchasing a part ownership last August. However, documents obtained by the paper clearly contradict Anti-Bob’s assertion.

These documents clearly show that Anti-Bob’s company sought and eventually received approval from federal regulators for significant and risky changes to the mining strategy. “Records of the Mine, Safety and Health Administration state that Mr. Murray’s (Anti-Bob’s) company routinely and repeatedly petitioned MSHA for approval to extract coal from both the North and South barriers.” Which to mining novices like you and I are thick walls of coal that are located on both sides of the main tunnels and help to hold up the mine.

According to documents on file with the Utah division of Oil Gas and Mining, the previous owner of the mine, Andalex, had decided not to mine those barriers because it posed a significant risk to the mining personnel.

The document submitted by the company in April 2005 states that “although maximum recovery is an important design criteria, other considerations must be looked at in the extraction of coal. These factors consider the assurance of protection for personnel and the environment.” A representative from Andalex further states that “solid coal barriers will be left to protect main entries from mined-out panels to guarantee stability of the main entries for the life of the mine.”

So, in addition to ignoring the warnings of the previous mine owner not to mine the North and South barriers Anti-Bob sought the maximum profit by employing a technique known as “retreat mining, where the miners cut away the remaining support pillars to extract the last coal deposits, leaving the roof to collapse as they go.”

Having endured a major “bump” in March 2007, (“which occurs when the pressure of the mountain bears down, often causing the roof to fall in, floors to heave or coal to explode from the support pillars”) when over 700 feet of tunnels were damaged and/or lost. In what can only be described as a fit of greed, Anti-Bob and his cohorts (in all of their “400-plus years of mining experience”) in May of 2007 petitioned and again won approval from federal mining officials to begin mining the South barrier in the same manner as they had in the North.

Unfortunately, this latest lapse in judgment proved fatal for three miners attempting to rescue six miners that were trapped (and are by now presumed dead) at that very same South barrier location.

So what pearls of wisdom would the dean of daytime, the sultan of sophistication, the purveyor of all things both prudent and positive, Mr. Bob Barker himself, drop on us at a time like this? Well, besides reminding us to help control the pet population by having our pets spayed or neutered, he’d probably say greed is never, never, never good.

Paul Edward Hamilton welcomes comments at [email protected].