Coal Tattoo

Protecting Bud Morris’ legacy, Part 2


Last week, I wrote about a bill in the Kentucky General Assembly aimed at eliminating a new requirement that all working coal mines have at least two trained medical technicians on duty at all times.

Coal Tattoo has a special interest in following this legislation, as the requirement for two “METs” was put in place after the needless death of David “Bud” Morris, the coal miners whose photo graces this blog’s masthead. Bud’s death was part of my 2006 series on coal mine safety in America. His was one of the more heartbreaking deaths I wrote about. He died because he bled to death from not receiving adequate medical attention.

As I wrote last week, the bill to eliminate the two MET requirement Kentucky lawmaker Keith Hall, who just happens to also be Pike County coal operator.

Now, imagine my surprise to read the story in Tuesday’s Lexington Herald-Leader by John Cheves (author of a great collection of stories on U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.).

It turns out that one of Hall’s mines was shut down by Kentucky inspectors last year for violating the two MET requirement. No. Seriously.

As Cheves reports:

Hall is president and owner of Beech Creek Coal Co., which owns the underground coal reserves at Mine #1 in Phelps currently being mined on contract by Kimara Coal Co. (Another lawmaker, House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, is a paid consultant to Beech Creek Coal, giving Hall advice about coal markets.)

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Viking Mine Disaster

On March 2, 1961, an explosion killed 22 coal miners at Peabody’s Viking Mine near Terra Haute, Indiana.

I don’t have much information on this particular mining disaster, except for a note on the United Mine Workers of America’s calendar, and reference in an old Bureau of Mines Circular (helpfully collected into a great binder by the folks at the MSHA Library).

If you know anything about it, please comment below and share your information with readers, or drop me a private email to

The Smith Mine Disaster


Sixty-six years ago today, 74 miners died in an explosion at the Smith Mine No. 3 near Bearcreek, Mont. It was the worst coal-mining disaster in Montana history.

The photo above, from the town of Bearcreek’s Web site, shows the above-ground buildings of the Smith Mine as it appeared in the early days. The site also describes the disaster this way:

 February 27, 1943 began on an optimistic note for most families in Bearcreek, Washoe
and Red Lodge. The bright sun reflecting off a light covering of new snow gave most
people living in the shadows of the Beartooth Mountains a trusting
view of the world.
It was Saturday, and the kids were out from underfoot early that morning, not wanting to miss a minute of sunny escape from school. In addition, it was payday for the Smith Mine workers. The men would return home that evening with pay for their toil.

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murrayheadhands.jpgFederal mine safety regulators have won a round of their latest battle with coal operator Bob Murray and his Murray Energy.

Mike Gorrell at the Salt Lake Tribune reports this morning that a federal administrative law judge ruled for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration in a case over major safety problems at Murray’s West Ridge coal mine:

Federal mine safety regulators did not abuse their discretion in shutting down a longwall mining machine at Murray Energy Corp.’s West Ridge coal mine after a series of “bounces” during the past month, a judge in Denver ruled Thursday.

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More on Massey death report


The death last fall of James Otis Woods, 61, wasn’t the first — or the last — serious mining accident at Massey Energy subsidiary Alex Energy’s No. 1 Surface Mine near Drennen, Nicholas County.

Woods was operating a bulldozer for Alex Energy contractor AJM Corp. at the No. 1 Surface Mine near Drennen, Nicholas County. He was attempting to grade a previously reclaimed area of the mine when the dozer he was operating overturned and rolled four times to the bottom of a steep grade, according to a report from the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training. (See photo above from U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration).

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The West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training issued its investigation reports today on three coal-mining deaths from 2008.

We’ve posted a story about the reports on the Gazette’s Web site.

And, I’ve posted the reports online here:

Alex Energy

Bluestone Coal


Protecting Bud Morris’ legacy


Mine safety advocates in Kentucky are mounting a campaign to protect legislation enacted to respond to the death of Harlan County coal miner David “Bud” Morris. Bud graces the masthead of the Coal Tattoo blog, and was one of the subjects of a 2006 Charleston Gazette investigation about mine safety in America.

Bud died on Dec. 30, 2005, after he was hit by an underground coal car, cutting his left leg off 17 inches above the heel and crushing his right knee. But Bud didn’t have to die from those injuries. He bled to death because he did not receive proper  medical care at the mine.

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More MSHA mine death reports

Late last week, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration issued its reports in three coal-mining deaths, including two that occurred in 2008 and one that happened in late 2007.

In two of the deaths, MSHA found management problems contributed to the accidents, but did not cite the companies involved.

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(AP photo/A woman is assisted by family and friends as she grieves for her 18-year-old son, who was killed in a mine explosion, at the Tunlan Coal Mine in Gujiao, in China’s Shanxi province, Monday, Feb. 23, 2009.)

Seventy-four miners were killed Sunday in a series of explosions at a coal mine in China, according to an Associated Press report. The explosions also injured 114 workers, 26 of them seriously.

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Court won’t hear Massey safety appeal

Playing catch up a bit on a case where Massey Energy was challenging a mandatory $100,000 fine for coal operators that do not reporting serious mining accidents to state officials within 15 minutes.

We had a story about this in our print edition and the Gazette Web site a few weeks ago, and I see now that the state Supreme Court has voted 5-0 to hear the Massey appeal.

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A Hopkinsville, Ky., man was killed earlier this week at a surface coal mine in Illinois.

Local press reports identified the worker as 27-year-old Jarod Kacer.  Kacer is the second U.S. coal miner killed on the job in 2009.

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No criminal charges in Crandall Canyon?


A federal prosecutor investigating the Crandall Canyon disaster sounds like he has no plans for filing criminal charges in the August 2007 incident that killed six miners and three rescue workers.

U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman  told The Associated Press he was “troubled by an ‘awful combination’ of events that made for a ‘perfect’ disaster.” But Tolman added: “When you are trying to find whether or not there is criminal intent in the day-to-day operation of a mining company, it’s a Herculean task.”

“That’s what makes it a very difficult thing because emotions are very high, and you have victims of a tragedy that are crying out for justice,” Tolman told the AP.

House Labor Committee Chairman George Miller and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration sought criminal probes of Crandall Canyon, and MSHA has already sought $1.85 million in civil fines from Murray Energy and its engineering contractor.

Also, recall that a Labor Department Inspector General’s report found that  MSHA itself was negligent at Crandall Canyon, citing lax review of the mine’s roof control plan and poor follow-up inspections. And, an independent review found that Bush administration budget cuts, staffing reductions and the emphasis on “compliance assistance” played a role at Crandall Canyon and other mine disasters in 2006 and 2007.

Manchin on mine safety

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin mentioned coal-mine safety briefly during Wednesday night’s State of the State address:

We must also continue our mine safety efforts. We now have more than 40,000 new self-contained self rescuers in our underground mines. About 225 emergency mine shelters are in place and more are on the way. We hope to have the rest in place by the second quarter of this year.


We are implementing advanced communication and tracking systems, so we never face the situation we did at Sago and Aracoma, not knowing where our trapped miners were located and putting our rescuers in danger. And, we continue to be vigilant in inspecting our mines to ensure they meet our more stringent safety standards. We have added more inspectors and safety instructors and we also increased our mine inspector salaries so we can retain qualified staff.


We’ve required foremen and fire bosses to undergo additional training and made it easier to shut down problem mines. We will continue to face challenges in this demanding industry, but let me assure you — our mission is still to protect every miner so that he or she will return home safely to their families.

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MSHA news: UMW endorses Main over McAteer

Since the election returns were counted, two names have been about the only ones mentioned as being in serious contention to be President Barack Obama’s pick to run the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Those names?

Davitt McAteer, the longtime mine safety advocate who ran MSHA during the Clinton administration; and Joe Main, the UMW’s now-retired longtime safety and health director.

Initially, word was that the UMW was staying out of whatever fight was brewing over whether McAteer or Main would get the job. Either McAteer or Main would be fine with them. At least that’s what most sources were saying.

But now, the UMW has come out  in favor of Main. According to Phil Smith, spokesman for UMW President Cecil Roberts:

Yes, we have endorsed Joe Main for Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine
Safety and Health, and have communicated that endorsement directly to
President Obama. I wouldn’t characterize it as picking one person over
another, we just believe that there is no one better qualified than Joe
for the job.

[UPDATED: Phil Smith was kind enough to forward a copy of the UMW’s letter to President Obama, so I’ve posted it here.]

Preliminary report on coal mining death

U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration officials have released their preliminary report on last week’s coal-mining death in West Virginia.

For a long while now,  I’ve suggested that MSHA post these reports on its website. But they’ve never taken me up on my suggestion. So I guess I’ll just do it for them. So here’s the preliminary report on the year’s first-coal mining death.

Here’s the obituary that appears in the Gazette for this miner, William Darrell Wade:

William Darrell Wade, 70, died February 6, 2009. At the time of his death he was a resident of Charleston.25282.jpg

He was loved and survived by his beloved wife of 47 years, Sandra Lee Herald Wade; and by his sons, Pastor Kevin Wade of Charleston, and Pastor Kelly Wade of Charleston; and by his daughter, Whitney Wade Seacrist of Bloomingrose. He was honored by two daughters-in-law, Pam and Lisa Wade; and one son-in-law, Rob Seacrist. He was blessed with grandchildren who cherished him, Casey Adkins, Jake Wade, Cody Wade, Russi Martin, Carrie Brake, Matt Seacrist, Darrell Wade, Aaron Wade and Savanna Wade and adored by Rachel Whitney Adkins and Grant Matthew Adkins, and great-grandchildren ages 5 and 3 who never failed to make “Pappa Smurf” smile. He was the brother of Shirley Kim of Beckley, Earl Wade of Stafford, Virginia and Martha Hope Cox of South Carolina.

He was preceded in death by his mother Sadie D. Wade of Culpepper, Va.

A service for Darrell Wade will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, February 12, at Wilson Funeral Home, Charleston. Mr. Wade will be laid to rest at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Logan.

Friends will be received at the funeral home from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday. In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family asks that donations be made in his name to the church his sons are founding and about which he took such pride, Victorious Living Christian Center, P.O. Box 505, Charleston, WV 25322

On line condolences may be sent to

Bob Murray is at it again


My friend Michael Gorrell out at the Salt Lake Tribune has reported on some more safety problems at a Murray Energy operation in Utah:

Three “bounces” of coal in Murray Energy Co.’s West Ridge mine, the last of which injured a miner on Saturday, have shut down the mine’s longwall mining machine and sparked a legal fight between the company and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

Murray Energy’s Utah subsidiary, UtahAmerican Energy Inc., has asked a federal administrative law judge in Denver to overturn an MSHA citation requiring the company to change its roof control plan before the longwall machine can operate again.

Of course, Murray Energy’s Crandall Canyon Mine was the site of the August 2007 disaster — a “bump” that killed six workers and a follow-up outburst that claimed the lives of three rescue workers.

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Breaking news: Miner killed in W.Va.

The Associated Press is reporting that a coal miner was killed today at a strip mine in West Virginia. We’ve got the AP story on our Web site. 

State officials have identified the miner killed as William Wade, 70, of Bloomingrose. Wade was an employee of Medford Trucking.

Here’s the report I just got in from Amy Louviere at the Mine Safety and Health Administration:

A fatal accident occurred around 9:00 am today in District 4 at the Republic Energy mine. Preliminary information indicates that a contractor operating a coal truck lost control of the truck while traveling down grade on a paved haul road.  An eyewitness saw the truck travel a short distance up an embankment and then flip over.  The driver was ejected from the truck and was fatally injured when he was pinned under the cab.  The victim expired around 12:50 pm after efforts began to rescue him from his trapped position.

Republic Energy is listed as a subsidiary of Richmond, Va.-based Massey Energy.

As I have written before, these kinds of trucking accidents at large strip mines are far too common, and are often very preventable.

We’ll have more on this death in Saturday’s print and online editions of the Saturday-Gazette-Mail.

New mine death reports

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration this week issued reports on two of last year’s 29 coal-mining deaths, including one that occurred at CONSOL Energy’s Robinson Run Mine in Marion County, W.Va.

Underground mine locomotive operator Gary A. Hoffman, 55, of Rivesville, was killed on June 5, 2008, when he lost control of a 20-ton locomotive and two flat car. He was delivering roof-support “cribs” into the mine, located near Mannington. Hoffman apparently fell, jumped, or was knocked off the locomotive

MSHA investigators reported that Hoffman “was unable to maintain control of the locomotive and loaded flat cars due to condensation and moisture on the rails.”

Previously, the West Virginia Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training cited CONSOL, saying that a sand application system — meant to reduce the moisture that naturally builds up on track systems in underground mines — wasn’t working properly on Hoffman’s locomotive. State investigators reported that a “drop tube” on that system was plugged:

“This sander is required for the safe operation of the locomotive. Evidence indicates that this violation contributed directly to the accident.”

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