MSHA to families: UBB mine kept 2 sets of books

June 28, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration officials have wrapped up their meeting with the families of the miners who died in the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, and the briefing seems to have revealed a few new pieces of information.

First of all, the meeting apparently kicked off with a recorded video from Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who again expressed her sympathy to the families, thanked them for allowing her to spend time with them during the vigil that week in April 2010, and also promised the government would “leave no stone unturned”  in prosecuting any criminal activity found to have occurred at Upper Big Branch.

But the biggest piece of news, according to numerous people who attended the briefing, is that MSHA revealed that agency investigators believe Massey’s Performance Coal Co. subsidiary was essentially keeping two sets of books about safety problems and hazards at the UBB operation.  One set was called the “official” book, and that’s what was shown to government inspectors. The other set was called the “production” book, but it also included notations about safety problems or hazards discovered at the mine.

Shirley Whitt, whose brother Boone Payne died in the disaster, said that MSHA coal administrator Kevin Stricklin told the families that there was, “One set of books that had what problems they’d run into. That set was for Massey.  Then other set was for MSHA so MSHA wouldn’t have any idea of the problems they were having.”  Whitt said Stricklin told families that it was very unusual, but not necessarily illegal to have two sets of mine examination books.

But Whitt told the Gazette’s Gary Harki tonight:

I think that it makes it obvious that they (Massey) were trying to hide something. Why else would you do that?

When family members pressed on the question of the legality of the two sets of books, MSHA’s top lawyer, Patricia Smith, told the families that both MSHA and the U.S. Department of Justice were closely examining the two sets of books for potential violations of civil and criminal statutes that require accurate recording of hazards.

Several sources who attended tonight’s meeting also told me that MSHA officials told families that they have found Massey routinely did not record the required methane readings and airflow readings that were supposed to be part of regular mine safety examinations by company officials.

MSHA officials spent a fair amount of time at tonight’s meeting explaining in some detail why they believe that Massey Energy’s “natural disaster” theory of the explosion is just wrong, and more details on that issue will likely be forthcoming during the MSHA media briefing scheduled for 10 a.m. tomorrow.

MSHA investigators have apparently completed a more than 200-page draft of their report on the disaster, but don’t expect to make it public in final form until sometime late this fall, according to sources who attended tonight’s meeting.


7 Responses to “MSHA to families: UBB mine kept 2 sets of books”

  1. Ken,
    Thanks for providing this very timely report. I look forward to reading more from you after tomorrow’s public briefing.

  2. Paula l says:

    Ken – Is MSHA/DOJ investigating whether or not other Massey mines kept 2 sets of books?

  3. New age Miner says:

    Absolutely unbelievable! Massey Energy (along with Don Blankenships cronies) have done nothing but give the nations coal industry a “black eye”. And what’s also sad is that the “Massey Management culture” is still present. Don’t be fooled by the Alpha buy-out. The buy-out was nothing more than a change of company name. Alpha has yet to go around to each of the coal mines and down play the “Massey-mentality” of production 1st, safety 2nd, and litigate every violation. Don’s way of mining coal and trying to hide all the hazardous conditions has done nothing less than destroyed the nations perseption of how the coal industry does business.

    Thanks for the up-date Ken!

  4. Mark says:

    Good Article Ken! All I can say is WOW!

  5. coalminer says:

    Well it appears that msha invesigators lack mining experience as far as supervision. Many large mines keep construcion books, production logs where more detail iskept so they can properly manage the mine. There is absolutely nothing wrong with 2 or more books. That is why the state team did not mention it. Now it makes u wonder what in the world have they been doing all this time. Chasing rabbits in a dark hole!

  6. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    The problem with keeping multiple books is that in this instance, the production books indicated hazards that weren’t noted on the required examination books — a possible indication that the exams were inadequate or that those books were falsified, which is a felony.


  7. old one says:

    I wasn’t going to comment on this one however I think we are making much ado about nothing over the record books. It doesn’t matter if there is 1 book or a 100 books. If the correct information is not recorded all are useless to the miners, mine foremans, and the mine inspector. This is where you need a well trained person that can examine the mine and cite the hazards found and then the record books when he come back to the surface. All mine inspector do this the books are a tool used by them and most times the first citation issued. If for example the mine is liberating methane and is on the 103i spot and the books says 0.0 found in all areas of the mine this should throw up a red flag and then the inspector be he state or federal starts looking.

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