Coal Tattoo

Massey problems put more pressure on Alpha

CEO Kevin Crutchfield and the other folks at Alpha Natural Resources are about to get the perfect chance to show how their “Running Right” program can improve safety performance at coal mines.

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration just announced:

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued notices of a potential pattern of violations to Randolph Mine operated by Inman Energy and Justice No. 1 Mine operated by Independence Coal Co. Inc., both underground coal mines in Boone County, W.Va., that were formerly owned by Massey Energy.

This means the new management from Alpha will get the chance to submit plans to clean up the problems at Randolph and Justice No. 1, and avoid MSHA putting those mines on a formal “pattern of violations” status. As MSHA explained:

Section 104(e) of the federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 provides that mine operators with a pattern of significant and substantial violations be subject to closure orders for areas of the mine affected by those violations until the mine receives a clean inspection. Under current regulations, MSHA uses a screening process to determine whether a mine has a potential pattern of violations. A mine operator found to have a potential pattern of violations is given a period of time to reduce violations before MSHA uses its authority under 104(e) to issue closure orders.

These new potential pattern of violation actions at former Massey operations grow out of an MSHA audit of whether mine operators around the country properly reported all of the accidents and injuries at their operations.

We already know that Massey itself announced late last year that it had made major errors in its reported injury rates, and that an MSHA audit found unreported accidents at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine, including roof falls and miner injuries.

Massey and Peabody Energy both refused to turn over certain accident and injury information requested by MSHA, and the dispute ended up in front of the federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, which ruled for the agency. MSHA explained what happened then at the Massey operations:

Alpha Natural Resources Inc. recently acquired Massey Energy and agreed to provide records for five of its mines, including Randolph and Justice. MSHA’s audit revealed that those two mines failed to report or inaccurately reported a total of 24 injuries, resulting in 1,125 lost days of work.

Interestingly, though:

On June 13, MSHA requested in writing that Peabody Energy provide the required information for its Air Quality No. 1 Mine in Knox County, Ind., to avoid daily civil penalties. When Peabody failed to comply, MSHA started assessing penalties in the amount of $4,000 per day beginning on June 23. The daily penalties will continue until all of the audit information is provided to MSHA.

MSHA chief Joe Main said:

One of the factors the agency considers before issuing a PPOV notice is the mine’s accident and injury history. Refusal to provide this information to MSHA prevents the agency from determining whether a mine meets the PPOV screening criteria.