Massey’s Troubles Continue at UBB and Seng Creek Powellton

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Oct 08, 2010 in Coal Mining Accidents

Massey Energy this week added to its complaints about how the Mine Safety and Health Administration is handling the investigation into the West Virginia's Upper Big Branch mine explosion. The company was a little more generous in its statement regarding MSHA's findings at the Seng Creek Powellton mine in Boone County, W.Va. The Upper Big Branch mining accident last April took 29 lives.

The UBB complaint involves a consultant for the company who has been helping in the investigation. MSHA has barred the consultant from entering the mine, reportedly saying the man lacked the necessary training to work underground. Massey countered that the consultant had been working in the underground mine for months. MSHA is investigating the company's claim.

Meanwhile, in Boone County, MSHA investigators made a surprise visit to the Seng Creek Powellton mine, where they found serious violations and issued 11 closure orders. The investigators reported the following violations:

  • Taking illegal deep cuts into the coal seam. Such deep cuts can increase coal dust in the air. UBB investigators have suggested that excessive dust mixing with methane gas was the cause of the explosion there.
  • Operating without proper ventilation. The investigators found that some ventilation equipment was not being used.
  • Failing to take required air readings to monitor levels of explosive materials. Dangerous levels of these materials can lead to an explosion like the one at UBB. If monitored regularly, mine personnel can take remedial efforts or choose to evacuate the mine if the levels get too high.

Deep cuts can boost productivity, according to MSHA. Because of the potential for greater levels of coal dust in the mine, the agency must approve deep cuts before they are made.

The investigators reported that the air in the Seng Creek Powellton mine was so thick with coal dust that they had trouble seeing the massive continuous mining machine.

Massey has corrected the violations, and the mine continues to operate. In a statement to the press, the company said the violations were in direct contravention of company policy and training, and that the personnel responsible had been let go or suspended. The company also stated that it appreciated MSHA's uncovering the conduct that they had not uncovered themselves.

Resources: "MSHA Bans Massey Regulator From UBB Investigation" 10/7/10

West Virginia Public Broadcasting "MSHA Finds Violations After Surprise Visit to Massey Mine" 10/7/10

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