MAC: Mines and Communities

Massey accused of criminal acts leading to US mine disaster

Published by MAC on 2011-07-04
Source: New York Times

For over a year the  largest "mountain top destruction" coal miner in the USA has claimed that the country's worst mining disaster for 25 years was an "accident".

Twenty nine workers were blown up by a methane explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia in April 2010. See: US: Massey tries escaping penalties for killing employees

Now, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has exposed shocking mis-management at the mine - including the criminal keeping of two record books, one of which intentionally misrepresented the nature and degree of safety violations.

According to Dorothy Kosich (Mineweb 30 June 2011), the tragic event was caused by a buildup of coal dust "because float coal dust was inadequately controlled, water sprays were missing or not functioning on the longwall shearer, and rock dust or crushed limestone to reduce coal dust was inadequately applied.

"The ignition was probably sparked by worn-out longwall cutting teeth hitting sandstone on the longwall machine's shearer, the officials suggested. The 'methane ignition transitioned into a massive coal dust explosion'."

Ms Kosich quotes an MHSA official as claiming that methane gas readings, taken shortly after the explosion, showed too little methane to support Massey Energy's theory that a massive, naturally occurring and unpredictable inundation of gas caused the disaster.

The MSHA official also accused Upper Big Branch Mine upper management of "intimidation of miners [and] threatening to fire first line management for not meeting production goals."

Massey was taken over by US coal company, Alpha Natural Resources, in June 2011. See: US Pension funds demand justice from Massey 

Mine Owners Misled Inspectors, Investigators Say

By Sabrina Tavernise

New York Times

29 June 2011

Federal investigators said Wednesday that Massey Energy, the owner of the West Virginia mine where 29 people died in an explosion last year, misled government inspectors by keeping accounts of hazardous conditions out of official record books where inspectors would see them.

Kevin Stricklin, administrator for coal at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, described a dual accounting system practiced by Massey before the explosion, in which safety problems and efforts to fix them were recorded in an internal set of books, out of sight of state inspectors and off the official books that the law required them to keep.

That was the conclusion of a large team of federal investigators who spent a year sifting through documents, interviewing witnesses and examining evidence at the site of the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine.

Some of the findings echoed a report issued by an independent team of state investigators this month, which blamed Massey and its culture of impunity for the explosion. But it went further in its criticism, saying Massey took systematic and premeditated steps to circumvent government inspections.

If a coal mine wants to keep two sets of books, that's their own business, Mr. Stricklin said. What they have to do is record the hazards associated with the examination in the official record book, and that wasn't the case here.

Massey managers appeared to have pressured workers to omit dangerous conditions, Mr. Stricklin said.

Ted Pile, a spokesman for Alpha Natural Resources, the company that acquired Massey in a merger this month, said company officials had heard the information for the first time on Wednesday "along with the rest of the public," and that until the company completes its own investigation it would not be in a position to comment.

Until we complete our review we wont be in a position to speculate as to the cause of the accident at Upper Big Branch, he said.

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