Massey Energy Accused of Hiding Hazardous Conditions from Inspectors before Deadly Mine Disaster

Friday, July 01, 2011
Don Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy
Massey Energy has been accused by government inspectors of hiding accounts of hazardous conditions at the Upper Big Branch mine before an explosion last year killed 29 workers.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) reported that Massey had a two-book accounting system that omitted safety problems and efforts to fix them from records shown to West Virginia inspectors, which is a violation of state law.
The MSHA spent a year reviewing more than 84,000 pages of documents, interviewing 266 people and examining evidence at the Upper Big Branch mine. The agency’s administrator for coal mine safety and health, Kevin Stricklin, publicly criticized Massey’s practices and refuted the company’s assertion that the explosion was unavoidable on its part.
Some of MSHA’s findings reportedly echoed those of an independent team of state investigators who blamed Massey and its culture of impunity for the disaster. The West Virginia investigation, launched by former Governor Joe Manchin III and led by former MSHA chief Davitt McAteer, found that coal dust had been allowed to build up in the mine and helped create the deadliest mine blast in 40 years.
The McAteer team blamed the explosion on a “total and catastrophic systemic failure” by Massey, adding: “It is only in the context of a culture bent on production at the expense of safety that these obvious deviations from decades of known safety practices make sense.” Massey officials maintain that the explosion was caused by a giant burst of methane gas blowing out of the ground.
To date, no Massey executives have been indicted for the accident. Only two lower level employees–a mine foreman and former chief of security–have been brought up on charges. Nearly 20 top company managers refused to speak to federal investigators, invoking their Fifth Amendment rights.
Massey, meanwhile, has been bought out by Alpha Natural Resources, which so far has declined comment on the recent findings.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Mine Owners Misled Inspectors, Investigators Say (by Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times)
Report Faults Mine Owner for Explosion that Killed 29 (by Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times)
Upper Big Branch Report (Robert C. Byrd National Technology Transfer Center)
Massey Coal Executives Escape Prosecution for Mine Deaths (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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