Coal Tattoo

Friday roundup, April 26, 2013

In this Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012, photo, a Norfolk Southern Railroad train pulls transport cars full of coal near Goodfield, Ill. Norfolk Southern Corp. reports quarterly financial results after the market closes on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

This week started with still more terrible news from the coalfields of China:

An explosion in a coal mine killed 18 people and injured 12 others in Jilin province on Saturday when the mine operators defied a government order of suspending the work for inspections.

The blast occurred at 1:26 pm on Saturday in the Qingxing coal mine in Helong.

Seventy-three people were working underground, and 55 of them were lifted to safety.

All of the injured were receiving treatment in hospitals and were in stable condition, the Jilin provincial information office said in a statement on Sunday.

The mine’s senior managers have been detained by police, and the Qingxing coal mine’s operating permit has been canceled, according to the statement.

Closer to home, Jessica Lilly over at West Virginia Public Broadcasting had this very interesting story:

Last month, an Administration Law Judge of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review commission denied a joint request from MSHA and Alpha Natural Resources to drastically modify citations against Brushy Eagle mine.

Brushy Eagly is a legacy Massey Energy mine operated by Marfork Coal group. Marfork Coal oversaw the Upper Big Branch mine in April 2010 when 29 mend died in an explosion.

 Most interesting was this part:

Former MSHA investigator and mine safety advocate Tony Oppegard points out that a CLR is not an attorney, but if approved by an Administrative Law Judge can participate in the litigation of citations before the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.

“Their job is to try to take some of the burden off of MSHA attorneys,” Oppegard said, “by handling simple cases that can be easily and quickly resolved before administrative law judges. Typically these are these are rather simple citations usually that are not S and S.”

But a ruling issued by federal Administrative Law Judge Margaret Miller indicates that a CLR was chosen to represent MSHA as Marfork Coal contested violations that were S and S—meaning “significant and substantial.”

“I’m surprised in this particular case that MSHA would even have a CLR on the case,” Oppegard said, “because this is at a mine with a history of problems these are not routine violations some of them according to the ALJ’s decision were very serious.”

According to the court document, the CLR, representing MSHA, jointly filed a number of settlement requests along with the attorney for Marfork. The CLR requested that “S and S” designations be removed and also modified the number of effected people in several instances—both of which drastically reduced the penalties, sometimes by 90%. Judge Miller denied the proposed settlements because the suggestions were inappropriate.

“It’s very disappointing to read that a representative of MSHA is trying to reduce civil penalties by 90% or more,” he said. “I mean it’s absurd.”

There’s more:

The ruling also says that the CLR explained that District 4, southern West Virginia, “has seen two major mine disasters (one of which being the Upper Big Branch Disaster) in recent years and, consequently, the inspectors, many of whom are inexperienced, are under pressure to write citations.”

Tony Oppegard told Jessica:

If I was Joe Main I would be very upset to see that. In other words she’s basically trashing the inspectors who work in her office by saying they are writing bogus citations because they are under pressure. That why I say it sounds to me like she ought to be working for the coal industry.

Shovel operator Joyce Neal sits down in Decker, Mont., on April 11, 2013. Neal retired this month after 30 years at Spring Creek Coal Mine, which lies just north of Sheridan, Wyo. She was one of only a handful of women on the 257-member crew. (AP Photo/The Sheridan Press, Paolo Cisneros)

Also this week, Platts reported:

Alpha Natural Resources’ 6.4 million short ton Cumberland underground thermal coal mine in Greene County, Pennsylvania, is back in production, a company spokeswoman said Monday.

Cumberland had been idled since April 8 after the US Mine Safety and Health Administration issued an “imminent danger order” because of elevated methane levels.

The mine’s longwall started back with the Sunday afternoon shift “and we are back to normal operating schedules” Monday, company spokeswoman Samantha Davison said in an email.

And WDTV reported:

Members of a small Harrison County community gathered to remember a lesser-known mine tragedy. You’ve heard of Upper Big Branch and Sago. But what about the Clinchfield Coal Explosion of 1963?

“People has forgotten about this one, so I think it’s nice to make people remember,” said widow Artha Robinson.

Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of that explosion in Dola, that killed 22 miners and left 59 children fatherless. State and Local leaders, community and family members of those killed, gathered on a windy Saturday, to remember lives lost.

Hostess Nickie Fortney-Arnold said, “These families didn’t talk about this. They just got up the next day and went on, because that’s what they did in those times.”

And in other coal news and commentary:

— The Los Angeles Times reported:

The Los Angeles City Council approved a plan Tuesday to begin moving away from coal-fired energy, despite warnings from a Department of Water and Power watchdog that the shift could cost more than $650 million.

Like many utilities, the city-owned DWP gets more of its power from coal than from any other source. But last month, after a lengthy campaign by environmentalists, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and utility officials announced a plan to end the city’s reliance on coal two years ahead of a state-mandated deadline.

 — Politico reported:

The fight over the future of the American coal industry is on the Western frontier now.

Coal companies are tapping the rich deposits in Wyoming and Montana’s Powder River Basin and other Western states and moving away from the declining reserves in the East, but they are running into stiff resistance from green groups and some powerful political forces.

— And, according to the Morgantown Dominion Post:

The lawsuit blocking expansion of a Cassville surface mine has gone to the state Supreme Court.

The Sierra Club appealed the case following a Kanawha County Circuit Court ruling in favor of Patriot Mining and the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Patriot Mining — a subsidiary of Arch Coal — wants to expand the New Hill Mine near Cassville by 225 acres. It is seeking a modification to its existing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to include the expansion, dubbed New Hill West.