MSHA Investigation of Upper Big Branch Explosion Continues, Flooding Slows Progress
Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Aug 30, 2010 in Coal Mining Accidents
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) provided an update last week on its investigation into the Upper Big Branch mine explosion. MSHA is responsible for the civil investigation; the criminal investigation is being handled by the Charleston U.S. Attorney's Office. The blast took the lives of 29 men on April 5, 2010.
The complexity of the agency's task was reflected in their progress report. MSHA has collected 260 pieces of evidence, taken more than 3,000 photographs, conducted 197 of the planned 250 interviews and gathered more than 183 separate documents. Mapping teams are close to finished with their work, though their efforts have been hampered by flooding.
As the pumping begins for the mapping team, the flame and forces team continues its work underground. Investigation teams are also slated to revisit areas of the mine in hopes of finding evidence that may have been buried in the explosion.
The teams have collected a number of handheld methane detectors, one of which detected 5 percent methane in the mine's atmosphere just prior to the blast, neither supporting nor refuting the position of mine owner Massey Energy Co. that the accident occurred when safeguards were overwhelmed by high methane levels. For methane to explode, it must comprise between 5 and 15 percent of the atmosphere.
MSHA itself posited early on that methane and coal dust combined caused the explosion. More than 1,800 rock dust samples have been tested to date. Acquisition of additional samples must wait until the mine is cleared of water -- up to six feet of water in some areas of the mine has blocked the investigation since April.
At the end of July, Massey was cited for improperly storing a box of explosives in the mine. Investigators discovered the box near the site of the blast.
The Upper Big Branch explosion is the worst mining disaster in the U.S. for 40 years.
WHSV.com "Improperly Stored Explosives Found Inside WV Mine" 8/24/10
WHSV.com "Search for Cause of WV Mine Explosion Continues" 8/25/10
MSHA UBB Accident Investigation Update 8/25/10