Coal Tattoo

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Not so long ago, Massey Energy General Counsel Shane Harvey had this to say when The Associated Press asked him about the rock-dusting at his company’s Upper Big Branch Mine:

[The mine] appears to have been very well rock dusted, with rock dust still in place.

Well, not so much — at least according to data that the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration presented to families of the 29 miners who died in that April 5 explosion at Upper Big Branch. During a closed-door meeting last evening in Beckley, MSHA officials gave told the families of these results:

— 1,803 samples taken

— 78.92 percent out of compliance

Several sources who attended last evening’s meeting described the rock-dusting data to me, and it seems likely that MSHA officials will confirm these results during a media briefing scheduled for later this morning.

Remember that “rock-dusting” — spreading crushed limestone on the surfaces of the underground mine tunnels — is a key ingredient in controlling any ignitions or explosions that occur during the mining process. MSHA rules require that dust collected from those surfaces have a certain percentage of incombustible materials (rock-dust) in order to prevent small ignitions from turning into big disasters.

Also at last night’s meeting, family members were told that Massey Energy mine managers from Upper Big Branch are challenging the right of federal investigators to sit in on witness interviews being conducted under the authority of subpoenas issued by the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training. Readers may recall that the state office has general subpoena power, while MSHA can only compel witnesses to appear for interviews if federal officials call a public hearing.

Stay tuned for more following this morning’s MSHA media briefing …