Coal Tattoo

Last evening, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration issued the following response to allegations by Massey Energy that MSHA-ordered ventilation plan changes reduced the amount of fresh air flowing into the Upper Big Branch Mine’s working sections before the April 5 disaster:

Did MSHA require Massey to make changes to the ventilation system from the system in effect in Sept 2009?

Massey made a number of revisions to its ventilation plan between September and January.  In January, MSHA issued unwarrantable failure orders because the system in place could not be effectively maintained by the operator to ventilate the mine.  Massey had one of two choices – either repair the conditions or revise the ventilation plan.  Due to adverse mining conditions (floor heaving, ribs falling in and water accumulating), the operator elected to revise the plan.

Did these changes reduce the fresh air flow to the longwall face?

MSHA’s accident investigation team will thoroughly examine the mine’s ventilation plan and any changes required by MSHA in order to determine the volume of air flow.

Massey officials said that methane measurements taken at the 22 headgate, the 22 tailgate, and the longwall just before the blast showed either zero or very low (.2 or .3 percent) methane readings. Does that fit with what MSHA investigators have learned?

MSHA did not have any inspection personnel in this area of the mine in the week prior to the explosion. These methane readings will be thoroughly examined during the course of the investigation. Keep in mind, however, that conditions are continually changing in a mining environment.

Updated: Massey has issued a statement responding to MSHA:

MSHA’s statement that the mine operator had the option to repair mining conditions is inaccurate.  In fact, MSHA rejected the company’s proposed plans to rectify mine conditions and instead required the ventilation change.

MSHA also inaccurately stated that the required ventilation change was made after two orders were written in January 2010.  In fact, the two orders written on January 11th were abated within minutes and no plan changes were required or requested by MSHA at that time.  Certain aspects of these orders are being contested.