Assistant U.S Attorney Steve Ruby continued his redirect examination of former Massey Energy ventilation expert Bill Ross this morning trying to respond to defense efforts to convince jurors that the federal Mine Safety and Health administration wrongly refused to allow Massey to continue using belt air as part of a ventilation plan for a new longwall section at the UBB mine.
Ross testified that MSHA allowed Massey to keep using belt air – in which fresh air is brought into the mine through the same tunnels as coal conveyer belts – even though the company had not provided adequate information justifying the practice.
Ruby had Ross read to the jury from MSHA records that outlined the findings of a national study of belt air mandated by Congress after the death of two miners in a January 2006 belt fire at Massey’s Aracoma Mine in Logan County.
U.S. District Judge Irene Berger has not allowed jurors to learn that two miners died at Aracoma and forced any mention of it to refer only to a “safety incident.”
Ross read the jury MSHA records that cautioned agency staff to “take special care” when considering belt air proposals.
MSHA staff were told to require a variety of data to support coal company applications to use the practice, Ross said.
Ross testified that Massey couldn’t get that information together quickly enough for the company’s hoped-for start day for the new longwall section.
“We did not have all that data” Ross told jurors. “I don’t know if all of that was ever submitted to MSHA or not.”
Ross also read aloud from previously discussed exhibits that showed former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship personally rejected a proposal for a new air shaft that Ross agreed would have helped cure UBB’s ventilation problems.
Ross also testified again about his concerns that Massey didn’t provide its mines enough workers to keep up with safety laws.
“The mine grows as you produce and when you look at that much area – rock dust, air flow, roof support, ventilation – you can keep advancing as it grows, you have to consider the need for upkeep and support and ventilation,” Ross said.
When Berger dismissed jurors for a mid-morning break, she asked one of the 15 jurors, identified only as “Mr. Rose” to come to the bench. The judge then held a private discussion with that juror and lawyers for both sides with “white nose” playing in the courtroom so the public could not hear what was said.