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Vol. 75/No. 5      February 7, 2011

Massey Energy refuted on
mine explosion responsibility
Refuting claims by Massey Energy Co. that an unforeseeable influx of natural gas caused the explosion last April at its Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced January 19 that the company was responsible for the combination of methane gas buildup and shoddy equipment that ignited coal dust inside the mine.

The massive explosion killed 29 miners. It was the worst U.S. mining disaster in 40 years. MSHA investigators found worn and broken equipment that could cause sparks and coal-cutting machines with faulty water sprayers. The sprayers are needed to minimize combustible dust and put out small methane gas fires. A safety inspection 20 minutes before the blast did not mention either of these problems.

MSHA based its investigation on Massey's own inspection logs, which recorded excessive coal dust on eight of the mine's conveyor belts, and tests the government agency conducted that the company tried to obstruct. Massey continues to argue it was not at fault.

In a press interview Gene Jones, whose brother Dean, 50, was killed in the mine explosion, said, "It's like production before safety to me. It’s like they didn't have the time to do anything but get the coal out of the mines… . You wonder where MSHA or anybody was at on the inspections."

Judy Jones Peterson, Dean Jones’s sister, insists the fault lies with the company. "It was a completely preventable accident," she said.

"Parts or all of Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine were ordered closed more than 60 times in 2009 and 2010," reported the Charleston Gazette, and the mine was repeatedly cited before the blast “for allowing potentially explosive coal dust to accumulate."

As of January 26, Massey has been already cited twice by MSHA this year for safety problems at mines in West Virginia and Kentucky. One was for a failed stop mechanism on a bulldozer at the Rum Creek Preparation Plant in Logan County, West Virginia; the other, for poor roof and wall supports at the Voyager No. 7 mine in Martin County, Kentucky.
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Gov’t plans to seal coal mine in New Zealand  
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