Massey Energy Co. Chairman and CEO, Don Blankenship, second from right, attends a press conference with board directors, from left, Robert Foglesong, Bobby Inman, and Stanley Suboleski, Monday, April 26, 2010 at in Charleston, W.Va. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)
So much for the notion that Alpha Natural Resources’ buyout of Massey Energy would put an end to efforts to argue that the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster was an act of God, rather than a completely preventable result of terrible safety practices by Massey.
The Wall Street Journal’s Kris Maher just posted a story based on what is apparently a copy of Massey’s internal report on the April 5, 2010, explosion at Upper Big Branch. Kris writes:
Massey Energy Co.’s yearlong investigation into a mine explosion that killed 29 of its workers concluded the blast was fueled by an unpreventable surge of natural gas and not coal dust, contradicting the findings of federal regulators and an independent investigation.
Massey released its 102-page report Friday, two days after the company was sold to Alpha Natural Resources Inc. for $7.1 billion. The report’s findings support in far more detail a theory of the accident the company first outlined in July. It also levels new criticism at the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration for conducting a “deeply flawed” investigation.
The story goes on to say:
Rather than resolve controversy about the accident, Massey’s report is likely to fuel more tension with regulators. It could also further complicate lawsuits filed by family members of miners killed in the accident whose claims are based on allegations that Massey knowingly and intentionally created unsafe conditions that led to the deaths. So far, 13 of the 29 families have sued and eight have agreed to settlement offers made by Massey.
Massey’s report effectively found that the company bore no responsibility for an accident that was a naturally occurring event beyond its control. The company’s findings contradict an independent-investigation report released in May by J. Davitt McAteer, the top mine regulator under the Clinton administration.
The story goes on:
Massey also rebutted prior claims by the MSHA that the company failed to adequately ventilate the mine or spread inert crushed limestone to suppress coal dust. Massey said its use of inert crushed limestone throughout the mine to suppress coal dust exceeded MSHA standards “by a substantial factor.” It also said the ventilation system in the Upper Big Branch mine, which pumps fresh air into the mine and clears away potentially explosive gases, “functioned properly on the day of the explosion.”
“The government has ignored compelling evidence of a natural disaster and, instead, focused single-mindedly on any factors that were conceivably within Performances’ control,” the Massey report said.
Former Massey Chairman Bobby R. Inman wrote in a cover letter that the report was completed several weeks ago but that he honored a request from Alpha to delay its release “to minimize any publicity” that could detract from the shareholder votes on the deal completed Wednesday. He also urged Congress to pass legislation to create an independent agency to investigate mine accidents, similar to the National Transportation Safety Board which investigates airline crashes, rather than letting theh MSHA “police itself.” He recommended that mine-safety regulations “be more aligned with scientific findings and updated technologies.”
“It is my hope that the investigative report compiled by Massey Energy can be used as one of the guiding points in preventing future accidents and ensuring the health and safety of America’s miners,” Mr. Inman concluded.
Now, Kris Maher did not post a copy of it with his story. Perhaps Alpha is planning on more broadly releasing it later. Or not. It’s certainly not really clear who is calling the shots on this … Is Alpha in charge of Massey, or is Bobby Inman still running the plays — especially since he and other former Massey board members and executives are facing potential personal liability for the mine disaster … Perhaps Alpha CEO Kevin Crutchfield will address this today, and clear up any confusion.
Inman just issued a news release through the firm PR Strategies. Here’s what it says —
AUSTIN, TX, June 3, 2011 – Today, Admiral Bobby Inman (Ret.), released the results of an investigation report on the April 5, 2010 Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine explosion in Montcoal, West Virginia.
“At the outset of this investigation, we made a commitment to the UBB families to share with them our findings regarding the underlying causes of the April 5, 2010 mine explosion in Raleigh County, West Virginia,” said Admiral Bobby Inman. “This report is an accumulation of several months of meticulous evidence collection and thorough data analysis by nationally renowned experts.”
“Nothing will ever fill the void or heavy sense of loss being experienced by those who lost loved ones in last year’s UBB mine accident. However, it is my hope that this report can serve as a reference point for those families seeking answers and a guide post for those government officials, regulators and coal industry representatives charged with ensuring the safety and well-being of our nation’s coal miners.”
KEY REPORT FINDINGS
Massive inundation of natural gas caused the UBB mine explosion
Explosion likely originated in Tailgate 21 entries
UBB mine was adequately rock dusted prior to explosion
UBB ventilation system did not contribute to the explosion
The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) conducted a flawed investigation
We’ve gotten a couple of responses in to this ….
Rep. Nick J. Rahall said:
“Nothing in this report, or in anything any official from Massey has ever said, answers the key question I have posed repeatedly: If Massey felt that the UBB mine was made unsafe by requirements placed on it by MSHA, why did it not stop operations and pull its miners out? If Massey had concerns and really had put the safety of its miners first, there was nothing to prevent the company from taking that step to save lives.”
And this is MSHA’s official response:
“We are currently reviewing the findings that appear in Massey’s report released this morning. MSHA’s own conclusions about the cause of the explosion at Upper Big Branch will be discussed in great detail at our public briefing June 29 in Beckley.”
Phil Smith, spokesman for the United Mine Workers union, said:
We are reviewing the full report, but it appears that Massey is still trying to go to great lengths to blame God for the 29 miners’ deaths instead of taking responsibility for its own failures. That is an insult to the memory of those miners.