Coal Tattoo

Obama Mine Explosion

President Barack Obama, walks with Linda Davis, the grandmother of deceased miner Cory Davis, during a memorial for the victims of the Upper Branch Mine explosion at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center in Beckley, W.Va., Sunday, April 25, 2010. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

This just in from the White House and President Barack Obama:

I am deeply saddened by the loss of two miners in Kentucky, and my thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones they left behind. As I said after the tragedy in West Virginia, I refuse to accept any number of miner deaths as simply the cost of mining. It is the responsibility of all of us, from mine operators to the federal government, to prevent such tragedies from happening again. That is why my administration is taking steps to demand accountability for safety violations and strengthen mine safety so that all of our miners are protected.

Various media outlets are reporting today what is hardly surprising news: Federal officials are conducting a criminal investigation in the wake of Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.

The Associated Press is reporting:

A federal law enforcement official says the FBI has interviewed nearly two dozen current and former employees of Massey Energy in a criminal probe of the West Virginia mine explosion that killed 29 men.

The official says in the interviews over recent days the FBI has been looking for any evidence that the company engaged in criminal negligence.

Reuters reports:

The FBI is probing the company and the circumstances surrounding the explosion, including for potential negligence, the officials said, declining further identification.

National Public Radio, meanwhile, reported:

Sources familiar with the investigation say the FBI is looking into possible bribery of officials of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency that inspects and regulates mining. The sources say FBI agents are also exploring potential criminal negligence on the part of Massey Energy, the owner of the Upper Big Branch mine.

Interestingly, the Reuters story added this in response to the NPR report:

FBI and Justice Department officials declined to comment. National Public Radio reported that the agency that regulates the industry, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, was also under investigation related to potential bribery, but one U.S. official denied that report.

UPDATED: My sources are also discounting the part of the NPR story concerning a bribery investigation. I’m told that just isn’t true.

UPDATED: NPR is quoting a Department of Justice spokeswoman saying there is no bribery investigation, but NPR is standing by its story.

U.S. Attorney Chuck Miller has consistently declined to comment on the possible existence of any criminal investigation of the Upper Big Branch Mine. Justice Department officials in Washington have also declined comment. But Miller did issue a statement on April 12 that said his office was “ready, willing and able” to receive any information about possible criminal wrongdoing related to the mine or the disaster.

A couple of things to keep in mind … aside from the fact that media outlets (including the Gazette) are still scrambling for “scoops” about mine safety and the Massey disaster …

First, there is evidence to suggest that a criminal investigation was at least being actively considered of activities at the Upper Big Branch Mine prior to the April 5 explosion that killed 29 miners.

Second, remember that President Obama on April 15 had instructed Labor Secretary Hilda Solis “to work with the Justice Department to ensure that every tool in the federal government is available in this investigation.”

Meanwhile, Massey issued a statement about what it called “unsubstantiated rumors” of a criminal investigation of the Upper Big Branch disaster:

Massey has no knowledge of criminal wrongdoing.

It is not uncommon that an accident of the size and scope of UBB would lead to a comprehensive investigation by relevant law enforcement agencies.

We are cooperating with all agencies that are investigating the tragedy at UBB. Massey does not and will not tolerate any improper or illegal conduct and will respond aggressively as circumstances warrant.

Oddly, though, this quote from Massey — included in the Reuters’ story — appeared to confirm the existence of a criminal probe:

“We are aware that investigators are interviewing witnesses, but are not aware of the nature of their investigation,” the company said in a statement. “We intend to cooperate in all phases of the accident investigation.”

It’s worth also noting that Massey subsidiary Aracoma Coal Co. pleaded guilty to 10 criminal charges and paid a $2.5 million criminal fine for safety violations that led to the deaths of 2 miners in the January 2006 fire at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine. Of course, the widows of miners Don Bragg and Ellery Hatfield were terribly unhappy with the decision by federal prosecutors not to try to take this case up the corporate ladder.

And in July 2007, another Massey subsidiary called White Buck Coal Co. was fined $50,000 after pleading guilty to a criminal charge that it did not do required safety checks at a mine in Nicholas County. And in 2003, two other Massey subsidiaries, Omar Mining and Independence Coal, pleaded guilty to criminal Clean Water Act violations.

Kentucky Mine Accident

Friends and family members console each other at the Nebo Baptist Church in Nebo, Ky. early Thursday morning, April 29, 2010 as they await news on miners, Justin Travis and Michael Carter, who died as a result of a roof fall at Dotiki Mine late Wednesday night. (AP Photo/The Messenger, Jim Pearson)

I wanted to be sure to pass on the update from last evening from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration on the deaths of coal miners Justin Travis and Michael Carter in that huge roof collapse at the Alliance Resource Partners non-union Dotiki Mine in Western Kentucky:

On April 28, at approximately 10:40 p.m. Central Standard Time, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) received word of a roof collapse at the Dotiki Mine (ID 15-02132) in Hopkins County, Ky. Dotiki is operated by Webster County Coal, LLC and owned by Alliance Resource Partners, LP.

Two miners were originally unaccounted for, but on April 29, at 8:35 a.m. CST, rescue personnel located the first victim near the bumper of the continuous mining machine. Around 2:30 p.m., the second victim was found, and rescuers were attempting to remove fallen material and support the roof directly above him. The first victim has been removed from the fall area and transported out of the mine. At 5:30 p.m. CST, the second victim was removed from the fall area and transported to the surface.

MSHA personnel began arriving at the mine at 11:15 p.m. Wednesday night.

Rescue personnel entered the mine beginning around 11:30 p.m., and traveled approximately four miles by conveyance to the area where the miners are trapped. Rescue efforts, which include stabilizing the roof and loading out debris, had to be halted around 4:50 a.m. due to adverse roof conditions. These efforts resumed after the roof was stabilized.

MSHA personnel on site include the district manager, assistant district manager, family liaison, roof control supervisor and a roof control specialist. Representatives from the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing also are on site.

It was a little hard to find the coverage of this in the Kentucky papers. It is Derby Weekend after all … but here’s a link to the Courier-Journal story and one to the Herald-Leader’s piece.

And here’s the video of Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell discussing the incident on the floor of the U.S. Senate:

But hey, let’s not forget that it was McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, who did everything she could to dismantle mine safety protections for coal workers during her time as President George W. Bush’s Labor Secretary. And remember that at least one coal operator — Bob Murray, whose company brought us the Crandall Canyon disaster — who invoked his friendship with McConnell to get MSHA inspectors to back off problems at one of his mines:

Shouting at a table full of MSHA officials at their district office in Morgantown, W.Va., Murray said: “Mitch McConnell calls me one of the five finest men in America, and the last I checked, he was sleeping with your boss,” according to notes of the meeting. “They,” Murray added, pointing at two MSHA men, “are gone.”


West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin has scheduled a press conference for 11 tomorrow morning to announce a major grant toward funding construction of a new Marsh Fork Elementary School in Raleigh County.

The Annenberg Foundation has offered the $2.5 million to help build the school, a move that would get students, faculty and staff away from the adjacent Massey Energy coal-processing plant and the huge Massey slurry impoundment that sits just up the hollow from the school.

UPDATED: Here’s the link to Gov. Manchin’s press release, announcing that additional contributions from Massey and the local school system will reach the amount needed for the new school.

The governor’s office issued a press advisory this evening announcing that Gov. Manchin, local legislators, the Raleigh County Board of Education, the School Building Authority would join Charles Annenberg Weingarten of the foundation at the press Capitol press conference. The advisory said only that the governor would be making an announcement “regarding a financial gift that will go toward building a new school facility in Raleigh County.”

The Wall Street Journal Online reports:

A person familiar with the offer said Mr. Annenberg learned about the school when he came to the area following the Upper Big Branch accident, and that he got support for the project from the foundation’s board members who include family members.

The WSJ quoted Matt Turner, Manchin’s communications director:

We’re extremely pleased and delighted with this.

Continue reading…

Mine Accident

Miners wait at the entrance to the Webster County Coal Dotiki Mine No. 4 property in Nebo, Ky., Thursday, April 29, 2010.  The tall structure behind the men is the entry portal to the mine. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

I heard about it at about 8:30 this morning, in an email from my friend Ellen Smith at Mine Safety and Health News … A huge roof fall in western Kentucky … two miners missing … very little hope that they would be found alive.

It was like a punch in the gut, coming just 24 days after the massive explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County. This was just so like what happened four years ago, when two miners died at Aracoma just a few weeks after the disaster at Sago.

Let’s hope the rest of the year goes better … Remember in 2006, West Virginia had two other deaths in separate accidents not long after Aracoma, on Feb. 1. And then, five miners died at the Darby Disaster in Kentucky in May. The year ended with 47 coal-mining deaths nationwide.

I’ve been thinking all day — really for longer than that — about a post somebody forwarded to me from the West Virginia Red blog, alleging that Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was “politicizing the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.”

The blog cited a report from something called the Washington Examiner, which had this to say:

The day that at least 25 miners were killed in a West Virginia coal mine blast, the U.S. secretary of Labor said that they would not have “died in vain.”

What Secretary Hilda Solis apparently meant was that this tragedy would be put to good use – exploited in an effort to crack down on Don Blankenship, a non-union coal operator who espouses conservative political views and spends big money to beat Democrats in elections.

That was published the morning of April 7, apparently referring to this statement from Secretary Solis:

As we hear of more heartbreak from Whitesville, our thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends, loved ones, neighbors and coworkers. Twenty-five hardworking men died needlessly in a mine yesterday. I pledge that their deaths will not be in vain.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration will investigate this tragedy, and take action. Miners should never have to sacrifice their lives for their livelihood.

Read that last sentence again:

Miners should never have to sacrifice their lives for their livelihood.

Now, does anyone actually disagree with that? Seriously …

There’s been much written and a lot of talk about “politicizing” the mine disaster. There’s this suggestion that it’s wrong to talk about making mines safer when men are dying in them. Maybe doing so is politicizing the situation.

But isn’t insisting that you can’t talk about mine safety right now politicizing the situation too? There seems to be some suggestion that coalfield families should just hunker down, come together and take it when their husbands, brothers, fathers and sons die in the mines. Insisting on that is political, too.

Really, now … all politics aside — all union vs. non-union stuff aside — however you feel about Don Blankenship aside … do you really disagree with this statement:

Miners should never have to sacrifice their lives for their livelihood.

Mine Explosion

Howard Berkes from National Public Radio is reporting what has been rumored for days now:

The owner of the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine in West Virginia, where 29 miners died in a massive explosion April 5, is offering cash settlements to the families of the victims.

Three people familiar with the proposal say Massey Energy is offering each of the families $3 million. That’s on top of death benefits that include health insurance, college tuition, life insurance and continued weekly paychecks.

The story continued:

Massey Energy declined to confirm details of the settlement offers.

“There have been private conversations with families, yes,” Karen Hanretty, an acting spokeswoman for the company, said. She added that Massey was “not going to make public comments about those confidential conversations.”

And it closed with this:

The family of Benny Ray Willingham of Corinne, W.Va., was among those approached by Massey officials last week. Willingham was 61 when he died in the blast and had worked in coal mines for more than 31 years.

“We don’t want the money,” his daughter, Michelle McKinney, said. “We would like to have our daddy back alive.”


The U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement today formally announced its plans to write what it is now calling a “Stream Protection Rule” to replace the ever-controversial “buffer zone rule.”

OSMRE’s press release is here, and the text of a notice to be published in tomorrow’s Federal Register is here. Previous coverage of this is here.

Updated: With this new link to the Federal Register notice.

Concepts OSMRE is considering include:

— Adding more extensive requirements for baseline monitoring for permit applications;

— Defining the term “material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area,” which is prohibited under the federal strip-mining law.

— Establishing “corrective action” thresholds for mining to stop or other actions to be taken based on monitoring results;

— Revising rules on concepts such as “approximate original contour”;

— Requiring reforestation of mine sites

The Federal Register notice makes clear that OSMRE is going to conduct a detailed “Environmental Impact Statement” on its proposal.

Kentucky-Mine Accident

Miners families meet at the Nebo, Ky. Baptist Church Thursday, April 29, 2010 in Nebo, Ky. after two employees at the Dotiki mine in Hopkins County, Ky. went missing and rescuers were unable to contact them after a roof collapsed Thursday. Rescue operations are underway. (AP Photo/The Gleaner, Mike Lawrence)

Here’s the latest word from AP out of Kentucky:

A rescue team has found a second Kentucky miner dead after a roof collapse at an underground coal mine with a long history of safety problems.

Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing spokesman Dick Brown said the two miners were found dead Thursday after the accident at the Dotiki (doh-TEE’-kee) Mine in western Kentucky.

Rescue workers earlier found the body of one miner trapped under rock. They had to retreat for a time when the roof become unstable, sending down a shower of rocks.

Gov. Steve Beshear identified the miners as 27-year-old Justin Travis and 28-year-old Michael Carter.

State and federal records show more than 40 closure orders over safety violations since January 2009. Officials with mine operator Alliance Coal Co. didn’t return calls seeking comment.

That makes 35 coal miners dead on the job in the United States in 2010.

Mine Accident

Some media coverage today of the terrible roof fall at the Alliance Resource Partners Dotiki Mine in Kentucky has mentioned a February 2004 fire that happened at this same operation.

The main Associated Press news story, for example, reports:

The mine was at least partially idled in 2004 when a supply tractor caught fire and spread flames to the coal, timbers and other equipment. The 70 miners who were underground were all safely evacuated and the mine returned to full production in about a month.

And on her Mine Safety Watch blog, former MSHA staffer Kathy Snyder writes:

Some may not recall that the Dotiki Mine was the scene of a major fire on Feb. 11, 2004. The blaze caused no injuries, but it took several days to extinguish the fire and several weeks to restore the mine. The effort also demanded considerable resources from MSHA.

I certainly recall … and I remember how then-MSHA chief Dave Lauriski gushed about it being a “textbook operation” that got everyone out of the mine safety and returned the operation to production:

Coal production was resumed in record time — saving jobs. The mine returned to full production in less than a month – saving paychecks, 360 miner’s jobs, and hundreds of thousands of tons of coal necessary to power the economy. In fact, a majority of miners were transferred to affiliate operations thus keeping the paychecks flowing and the local economy running.

MSHA issued a joint report with Alliance Coal about this “textbook operation” and also produced a video about it.

OK … but what about two important things that I found when I read the report of MSHA’s “investigation” of the fire?

First, if it was such a textbook  operation, then why did MSHA inspectors cite Alliance for not immediately reporting the fire to the agency? According to the report, the fire started sometime between 4 a.m. and 4:45 a.m., but was not reported to MSHA until 6:15 a.m.

And second, MSHA never figured out what started the fire.  According to the agency’s report:

The mine fire originated on the Getman tractor model No. LRD-200 DZ. During the recovery of the mine, the tractor was sealed in the fire area in the final effort to extinguish the fire. The underlying cause of the machine fire could not be identified because the machine could not be examined.

This just in:

The CtW Investment Group presented today a in-depth analysis to shareholders of Massey Energy Company (NYSE:MEE), making the case to vote against the three directors up for election at the mining company’s May 18 annual meeting, the first meeting of shareholders since the tragic April 5 explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, in which 29 miners lost their lives. CtW began presentations to institutional investors and proxy advisors, arguing for the removal of three directors, Richard M. Gabrys, Dan R. Moore and Baxter F. Phillips, Jr. CtW charges that:

* The mine blast that killed 29 miners and destroyed $1.1 billion in shareholder value was preventable and occurred at a mine with an alarming record of serious violations.

Continue reading…

Kentucky Mine Accident

Gov. Steve Beshear, right, and Carl Boone, left, of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, answer questions at a news conference Thursday, April 29, 2010, in Providence, Ky. (AP Photo/Daniel R. Patmore)

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear is on the scene in Western Kentucky now, as one miner is confirmed dead and another still unaccounted for, in another mine accident that shocks the senses — coming as it does just 24 days after Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine blew up here in West Virginia, killing 29 workers.

But it wasn’t but a few months ago that Beshear joined the owner of the Dotiki Mine, Steve Craft of Alliance Resource Partners, (along with U.K. basketball coach John Calipari) for the opening of a new mine

“In this economy, we see a lot of industries grinding to a halt,” Beshear said. “But we also see miners continuing to dig so that our homes can be heated and we can cook and we can walk over to a light switch and turn on the lights.”

“It’s not just the energy,” he said. “It’s the national security. We can no longer afford to be dependent on other countries, most of whom hate our guts.”

Beshear added that progress is being made to reduce pollution from coal, such as through emissions controls and the prospects for turning coal into other fuels such as substitute natural gas and diesel fuel.

“We’re working hard to develop clean coal technology,” the governor said. “There is no reason we cannot be good stewards of the environment and be top producers of energy in the country.”

No mention there of coal-mine safety, or the fact that at least nine people have died in the last five years alone because of mine safety violations at Alliance operations. (No mention, either, by the way, that one of Alliance’s top safety officials, Kevin Vaughn, serves on Kentucky’s  Mining Board).

And it’s also worth going back and taking a look at the news coverage, such as this piece by John Cheves of the Herald-Leader, about Beshear firing the former head of Kentucky’s mining permit agency who was tangling with Alliance:

Ron Mills said he refused to issue about a half-dozen mine permits requested over the past year, chiefly by the politically connected Alliance Resource Partners of Tulsa, Okla., because they did not comply with federal and state mining law.

The story added:

In recent years, Alliance executives and employees have given several hundred thousand dollars in political donations on the state and national levels, including $70,000 to the Kentucky Democratic Party. Last month, Beshear named Raymond Ashcraft, Alliance’s Kentucky manager of environmental affairs and permitting, to the Kentucky Geological Survey Advisory Board.

Kentucky-Mine Accident

AP Photo/The Gleaner, Mike Lawrence

This just in from The Associated Press:

One miner has died in a coal mine collapse in western Kentucky and another was missing, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said Thursday after rescuers had to retreat from the underground accident scene.

McConnell announced the news on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Thursday. A McConnell spokesman said in an e-mail that the senator was alerted by officials with the mine operator, Alliance Coal Co. Alliance did not return calls from The Associated Press.

The miners were reported missing after a roof collapsed late Wednesday. Gov. Steve Beshear said rescue crews had to pull back after reaching the site of the collapse when the roof became unstable.

Tim Miller from the United Mine Workers Union said at least two others escaped after a rock fall in the mine near Providence, about 150 miles west of Louisville.

Beshear, who traveled to the scene, said rescue workers located one of miners but he was “unresponsive.” The rescue crew had to retreat when the ceiling shifted.

Beshear says workers were trying to shore up the roof so they could return to the site of the collapse, about 4 miles from the mine portal.

Beshear met privately for about 50 minutes with family members who have gathered at the Nebo Baptist Church.

And MSHA had this update a little while ago:

On April 28, at approximately 10:40 p.m. Central Standard Time, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) received word of a roof collapse at the Dotiki Mine (ID 15-02132) in Hopkins County, Ky. Dotiki is operated by Webster County Coal, LLC and owned by Alliance Resource Partners, LP.

Two miners were originally unaccounted for, but on April 29, at 8:35 a.m. CST, rescue personnel located the first body near the bumper of the continuous mining machine. They were unable to identify him because he is still trapped under rock. Efforts continue to locate the second miner.

MSHA personnel began arriving at the mine at 11:15 p.m. last night.

Rescue personnel entered the mine beginning around 11:30 p.m., and traveled approximately four miles by conveyance to the area where the miners are trapped. Rescue efforts, which include stabilizing the roof and loading out debris, had to be halted around 4:50 a.m. due to adverse roof conditions. These efforts resumed after the roof was stabilized.

MSHA personnel on site include the district manager, assistant district manager, family liaison, roof control supervisor and a roof control specialist. Representatives from the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing also are on site.

Additional Mine Information:

367 employees

Average daily production: 25,500 tons

Seam height average: 60 inches

3 shifts (2 production and 1 maintenance)


Alliance Resource Partners CEO Joe Craft (above)  is among the mining executives behind an effort to build a new “Wildcat Coal Lodge” for the University of Kentucky basketball program. Longtime mine safety advocate Tony Oppegard has noted before that the name implies coal that is mined illegally.

We don’ t have any idea yet what caused the massive roof fall that has left two miners missing at Craft’s Dotiki Mine in Western Kentucky … But we do know that in recent years miners have died in Alliance’s non-union operations because the company violated mine safety laws.

UPDATED, WITH ADDITIONAL INCIDENTS: A quick check of U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration reports revealed five seven such incidents that claimed nine lives in the last five years alone:

— On July 7, 2006, Edward Fitzgerrel as killed while repositioning the platform of a lift at Alliance subsidiary Hopkins County Coal’s East Volunteer preparation plant near Madisonville, Ky.  According to the MSHA report:

Fitzgerrel was caught between a metal cable tray and the handrail over the platform control panel resulting in fatal injuries. He was employed by General Mine Contracting, Inc. (GMC), a construction contractor on a new coal preparation plant for Hopkins County Coal (HCC), LLC’s East Volunteer.

Federal investigators concluded:

The Lift was not being maintained in safe operating condition and safety defects were not reported to the contractor or a mine official prior to operation. The lack of effective policies and procedures contributed to these conditions. The Lift’s main telescoping switch was not operating properly in that unintentional movement of the boom telescope occurred during the operation of the lift.

— On February 17, 2006, roof bolting machine operator Willard J. Miller was killed while operating a diesel-powered locomotive during a longwall machine move at Alliance’s Mettiki Mine along the West Virginia-Maryland border near Oakland, Md. According to the MSHA report:

The locomotive he was operating struck a parked lowboy rail car that was loaded with a longwall shield. The victim was crushed between the locomotive control panel and the tip of the longwall shield, which projected past the end of the lowboy.

Federal investigators concluded:

The direct cause of the accident was the method in which the longwall shield was carried on the low-boy, which permitted the load to extend beyond the limits of the car and into the roadway where it could be contacted by other vehicles. Practical means for increasing the victim’s awareness of his proximity to the lead trip, such as by use of a trip light or by facing in the direction of travel, could have also prevented the accident. An effective procedure was not in place to protect miners from hazards during transportation of items such as longwall shields.

— On Aug. 10, 2007, Jarred Ashmore, Daniel McFadden and Todd Richardson were killed in a fall of a bucket being used to sink a new mine shaft at the Gibson Mine.  The incident occurred during the celebration of the 100th anniversary of contractor Frontier-Kemper, when Richardson and McFadden asked for a tour of the shaft-sinking operation. MSHA investigators found:

A nylon sling and shackle attached to the bottom of the sinking bucket lodged into a shaft collar door, thereby tipping the sinking bucket. This resulted in the men falling from the bucket to the bottom of the shaft, a distance of approximately 550 feet. At the time of the accident, the shaft had not yet been connected to the underground mine workings.

And investigators found:

The accident occurred as a result of Frontier-Kemper’s failure to ensure that the hoist was under the control of the hoistman at all times when persons were in the shaft. The toplander was not at his station as the bucket was being lowered through the shaft collar doors and the hoistman had no visual contact with the bucket at this point. The hoistman lost control of the bucket when the nylon sling and shackle entangled with the shaft collar door. The contractor also failed to ensure that adequate fall protection was utilized while persons were transported in the sinking bucket.

— On March 9, 2008, laborer Michael H. Rickard fell on an icy walkway outside the warehouse at Alliance’s Warrior Coal Preparation Plant in Hopkins County, Ky. After being treated for a broken leg, and following surgery, Rickard developed pneumonia and was in and out of critical care while hospitalized.  He died on April 4, 2008.

Federal investigators from MSHA concluded:

The walkway was not maintained free of snow and ice which resulted in the fall of Mr. Rickard. The lack of effective policies and procedures contributed to these conditions and the resultant fall. Mr. Rickard’s death was charged to the mining industry because his death was due to the complications of the surgical procedure that was performed to remedy a work-related injury.

— On June 3, 2008, Justin Wilkin a 25-year-old roof bolter operator, was killed in a roof fall at Alliance’s Gibson Mine near Princeton, Indiana.  MSHA investigators concluded:

The standards, policies, and administrative controls in use at this mine did not ensure that persons would not position themselves or travel inby permanent or temporary roof support. The victim traveled under unsupported roof in front of the ATRS support beam to cross from the right side of the roof bolting machine to the left.

— On October 16, 2008, Timothy Adamson, a worker at Alliance’s Pattiki Mine in White County, Ill., was killed when he was pinned between a continuous mining machine and the mine rib, or wall. MSHA investigators concluded:

The accident occurred because of mine management’s failure to ensure that employees did not work or travel in the “Red Zone” around the remote controlled continuous miner. Based on the physical evidence, measurements and interviews, it is apparent to the investigators that the victim was backing the continuous miner away from the face of No. 9 entry while positioned between the machine and the coal rib.

— On Dec. 11, 2008, contract electrician helper Timothy Albright was killed at the Warrior Preparation Plant when he was hit in the head while trying to move the platform on a man-lift.  MSHA investigators concluded:

Miners were not trained adequately in the safe operating procedures to be followed in the event the platform of the man-lift becomes caught or entangled with an adjacent structure. Once the platform became caught, neither Albright nor his foreman knew the proper actions to take to safely remove the platform from the structure. This lack of knowledge to take the appropriate actions resulted in the accident.

And, there was also the mysterious case of Chad Cook, a contract truck driver at the Mettiki Mine. Gazette readers may recall that state and federal regulators at first tried to avoid investigating Cook’s death as mining-related. They argued his truck accident occurred on a public highway — until we published a story on photos showing otherwise.   MSHA later tried to blame the worker, arguing that Cook was driving too fast and was responsible for the accident. But West Virginia investigators admitted that by waiting two years to try to look into the incident, they were simply unable to determine what really happened.

This just in from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration:

On April 28, at approximately 10:40 p.m. Central Standard Time, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) received word of a roof collapse at the Dotiki Mine (ID 15-02132) in Hopkins County, Ky. Dotiki is operated by Webster County Coal, LLC and owned by Alliance Resource Partners, LP.

Two miners are unaccounted for, and efforts to contact them have been unsuccessful. MSHA personnel began arriving at the mine at 11:15 p.m.

Rescue personnel entered the mine beginning around 11:30 p.m., and traveled approximately four miles by conveyance to the area where the miners are trapped. Rescue efforts, which include stabilizing the roof and loading out debris, had to be halted around 4:50 a.m. due to adverse roof conditions. These efforts resumed after the roof was stabilized.

MSHA personnel on site include the district manager, assistant district manager, family liaison, roof control supervisor and a roof control specialist. Representatives from the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing also are on site.

Additional Mine Information:

367 employees

Average daily production: 25,500 tons

Seam height average: 60 inches

3 shifts (2 production and 1 maintenance)

Two coal miners are missing this morning in Western Kentucky, following what’s been described as a massive roof fall at the Dotiki Mine near Nebo in Hopkins County.

We’re still waiting for some official word from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. But the Evansville Courier & Press reports:

A spokesman for the mine said the accident happened when an isolated portion of mine roof fell unexpectedly.

“Rescue operations were initiated immediately, but efforts to contact the miners have been unsuccessful,” said a spokeswoman for the mine, reading a statement.

Steve Earle, a spokesman for the United Mine Workers union (which has been trying to organize workers at a nearby sister mine, ), told me this morning:

It doesn’t look good.

The mine is operated by Webster County Coal LLC, which is a subsidiary of Alliance Resource Partners.

I’ve been unable so far to pull a history of the Dotki Mine, because MSHA’s online data system appears to be down. But contrary to some initial reports, this is a non-union mine.

But, there was a significant fire at the mine six years ago. And Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and U.K. basketball coach John Calipari were hobnobbing not long ago with Alliance CEO Joe Craft at the opening of a new mine. And there’s been a big debate in Kentucky over efforts by Craft and others to build the “Wildcat Coal Lodge,” for the basketball program.

MSHA update on Upper Big Branch probe

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued this brief update on the situation at the Upper Big Branch Mine:

MSHA continues to take gas samples; mine is still unsafe for investigation team to enter.

Indications are that there is still some type of fire or heating underground, due to the continued presence of acetylene and ethylene.

The company has pumped 7 million cubic feet of nitrogen into the mine in an attempt to put out a potential heating or fire.

Although the concentration of the gases has decreased somewhat, it’s not enough to allow entry into the mine.

Today, MSHA officials from the district office and Technical Support met with Massey to go over possible next steps.

In the meantime, the investigative team is reviewing mine records and putting together its list of individuals to interview.

donbragg2The widows of Massey Energy miners Don Bragg and Ellery Hatfield this morning sued the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration for the agency’s failure to take action to prevent the January 2006 fire that killed Bragg and Hatfield.

Delorice Bragg and Freda Hatfield filed their Federal Tort Claims Act suit in U.S. District Court in Charleston over the fire at Massey’s Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine in Logan County.

Among other things, the suit cited an MSHA internal review report which found agency inspectors did not cite Massey or require the company to fix numerous major safety violations that contributed to the fire and to the miners’ deaths. The violations included failure to properly train workers, improper mine ventilation, faulty monitoring systems, inadequate pre-shift safety checks and accumulations of combustible materials. The lawsuit stated:

In every instance, MSHA noted the failure of its inspection personnel to inspect and remedy egregious safety violations that existed in the Alma Mine.

The existence of all of these contributing factors created a ‘perfect storm’ that all but guaranteed a tragic accident. Had even one of these major violations been properly and appropriated cited by MSHA, Mr. Bragg and Mr. Hatfield ma not have died in the mine fire.

The suit continues:

The sheet number and egregiousness of the readily apparent safety violations at the Alma Mine, which should have been identified by MSHA personnel if they had performed adequate inspections during their repeated trips to the Alma Mine preceding the fatal fire, are sufficient to lead a reasonable observer to question the true nature of the relationship between the responsible MSHA personnel and company management.

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set the date for its public hearing on the possible veto of the largest mountaintop removal permit in West Virginia history.

EPA officials will hold the hearing on Arch Coal’s Spruce Mine at 7 p.m. May 18 at the Charleston Civic Center.  There’s more information on the hearing available here.

The agency said:

Registering ahead of time is recommended for everyone , but especially for those planning to make oral comments, due to time and room capacity limitations. Oral statements will be limited to two minutes per person. The Presiding Officer will establish other reasonable limits on the nature and length of time for oral presentation. There will be no cross examination of any hearing participant. The Presiding Officer may make appropriate inquiries of any such participant. Written comments will be received and will become part of the official record of the Public Hearing. You will be scheduled to speak on a first-registered, first-assigned basis. Audio-visual equipment will not be provided.

If you have special needs and require auxiliary aids and/or services to fully participate in the public hearing, or if you have other questions about the hearing, please call us at 215-814-2760. If you have questions about registering for the public hearing, please call 877-368-3552.

Registration for those wishing to speak starts at 5 p.m. the day of the hearing.

This just in from The Associated Press:

The West Virginia Blues Society and a St. Albans barbecue restaurant are hosting an all-day fundraising concert for families affected by the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

Tomahawk’s Smokehouse and Saloon will host the Miners’ Memorial Fundraiser starting at noon Saturday.

National recording artist Jason Ricci will headline the show. Other acts include the Crossroads Blues Band, Robert Altman, Holy Cow, C&S Railroad, John Taylor and Washboard Jo.

Tickets, including a hog roast with all the fixings, are $15 per person or $25 per couple. Children get in free.

All proceeds go to the West Virginia Council of Churches’ Montcoal Mining Disaster Fund.

Mine Explosion

It’s being argued that we in the media are  “just silly” to be demanding that federal and state investigators open their probe of the disaster at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch to the press and the public.

Let’s put aside for a moment the crucial question of why MSHA chief Joe Main doesn’t respond to requests from the widows of Upper Big Branch miners that they be allowed into the investigation to find out the truth about why their husbands died.

The argument being put forth is that letting the press into the investigation interviews or making the contents of those interviews available in real time will hamper the investigation and help Massey Energy — by giving Massey lawyers real-time information about the direction investigators are headed.

OK … there’s just one little problem with this theory: One way or another, Massey is going to get into these interviews. That’s the way mine death investigations have pretty much always worked.

State officials generally let the company lawyers sit in. And if they don’t, the company lawyers slip in under the guise of being the “personal representatives” of individual workers or foremen. If the company wants in, it gets in. So regardless of whether the press, the public and the families find out what’s going on, Massey will.

Let me give a couple of examples …

First, there’s the investigation by MSHA and the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training a couple years ago of the deaths of Massey miners Don Bragg and Ellery Hatfield in the January 2006 fire at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine.

Massey lawyers got into the interviews. They showed up with miners and foremen who are being questioned by government investigators, said they were representing those men, and were allowed to listen and take notes.

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