Here’s a statement just issue by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration in response to Massey Energy’s press conference this morning:
Massey’s statement appears to be referencing readings from several hours after the explosion at Upper Big Branch, taken during rescue and recovery efforts. This information was shared with Massey some time ago. Elevated methane levels after an explosion in a mine would be expected if the explosion damaged ventilation controls and if mine gasses from sealed areas or from the longwall gob were pulled into the ventilation air current. This would cause a rise in methane after the explosion and could account for elevated methane in the samples.
Obviously, we will look very closely at methane levels as a part of the investigation into the explosion. Explosions require concentrations of gas or dust, and an ignition source. Massey’s ventilation plan, when properly followed, provided large quantities of air across the longwall face to keep methane and dust levels below combustible levels. Regulations also require functioning methane detectors to shut down mining equipment before methane levels reach combustible levels to eliminate the most likely ignition source.
We know this company and this mine violated ventilation standards multiple times in the months leading up to the explosion. We’ll look closely at the methane levels, whether Massey was following its plan at the time of the explosion, and any evidence indicating methane detectors were tampered with.