Coal Tattoo

In case you missed it, we posted a story last evening on the Gazette Web site with some new details about part of the focus of investigators digging into the cause of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.

The story, available here, reveals that state and federal teams are looking closely at a pair of  “methane outbursts” that occured at the Massey Energy operation in 2003 and 2004 — and at whether the company and regulators followed upon recommendations for avoiding future such incidents. It’s possible, investigators believe, that if gas pockets located beneath the coal seam under Upper Big Branch weren’t properly dealt with, they could have provided the methane that ignited the April 5 explosion that killed 29 workers.

In what is becoming a bit of a recurring theme, Joe Main and his U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration refused to comment for this story — even to discuss whether agency officials in the previous administration followed up on this problem.

Meanwhile, MSHA did report some scant information about investigators continuing their work checking to ensure the Upper Big Branch Mine is safe for their underground probe to begin — But it was Massey Energy, not government officials, who told the public that lightning strikes and bad weather forced teams back out of the mine last evening.

There’s also a story out about the public pension plan for California teachers joining the lawsuits against Massey Energy, alleging the company had an “abysmal” safety record even prior to the disaster. And, the town of Whitesville, W.Va., is seeking funding to put a memorial to the miners on donated land.