MSHA announced this afternoon that it had launched an inspection blitz over the weekend at 57 coal mines with a history of violations or safety problems related to methane accumulations, ventilation practices, rock dust applications and inadequate company safety checks.
In a news release, MSHA called these “impact inspections” and said they came on the heels of a directive by MSHA chief Joe Main following the April 5 explosion that killed 29 miners at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, W.Va. “Upon that directive, Main instructed all district managers overseeing the nation’s coal mines to focus increased attention on mine ventilation, rock dusting, methane monitoring and mine examinations during all ongoing regular inspections,” the release said.
Oddly, the release did not note that this sort of an inspection sweep was actually ordered by President Barack Obama during his meeting last week with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Assistant Secretary Main.
The release did quote Joe Main:
The purpose of these inspections is to provide assurance that no imminent dangers, explosions, hazards or other serious health or safety conditions and practices are present at these mines. Just last week, we pledged to the president that we will do whatever it takes to make sure another tragedy like the one that claimed 29 miners’ lives at Upper Big Branch never happens again.
According to the MSHA release, as many as 10 inspectors were sent to each of the mines, depending on the size of the operation. They examined mechanized mining units at slected mines, as well as mines’ bleeder systems (ventilation used to sweep methane away from the active face or from where coal has already been removed), belt entries and seals.
According to MSHA, the 57 mines were targeted based on “their history of significant and/or repeat violations and focused on safety standards concerning methane, mine ventilation, and rock dusting — the types of violations that can lead to mine accidents.”
Twenty-three of the mines targeted were in West Virginia and 14 in Kentucky. I’ve posted a complete list of the targeted mines here.
UPDATED: In some ways, the only news here is the names of the mines targeted — which MSHA had declined to release last week after President Obama ordered these inspections. Why did MSHA decline to do that last week? Because federal law generally prohibits MSHA from alerting operators prior to inspections.
At least eight of the mines targeted (not including Upper Big Branch — which had a history that got it on the list) are controlled by Massey Energy. More interesting, though, are some of the other names on the list: Patriot Coal for operations including its unionized Federal No. 2 Mine, which has already been targeted with a federal criminal probe, and at least five mines that I counted that are controlled by unionized mining giant CONSOL Energy.
MSHA has not yet released the results of any of these inspections.