Mine Explosion: Safety Practices Ignored

Monday, May 23, 2011 @ 05:05 PM gHale


Standard safety practices could have avoided the worst West Virginia mine blast since 1970 that left 29 dead.

But Massey Energy Co. recklessly ignored safety and allowed dangerous conditions to build inside the mine, according to an independent report just released.

The report by a former top federal mine regulator, commissioned by the West Virginia governor, said Massey could have prevented the April, 5, 2010, disaster with standard safety practices, including better ventilation to reduce potentially explosive levels of gas and dust in the tunnels.

“A company that was a towering presence in the Appalachian coalfields operated its mines in a profoundly reckless manner, and 29 coal miners paid with their lives for the corporate risk-taking,’’ the study concluded.

It also cast blame on state and federal regulators for failing to adequately enforce safety laws at the sprawling Upper Big Branch mine.

Officials released the report to members of the victims’ families during a private briefing.

The study noted “had Massey Energy followed basic, well-tested, and historically proven safety procedures,’’ they could have prevented the explosion.

It also supported the federal government’s theory that methane gas mixed with huge volumes of explosive coal dust turned a small fireball into an earth-shattering explosion.

Massey disputed the report, saying the explosion was the result of an uncontrollable inundation of natural gas inside the mine.

“Our experts feel confident that coal dust did not play an important role,’’ Shane Harvey, Massey’s general counsel, said in a statement. “Our experts continue to study the explosion and our goal is to find answers and technologies that ultimately make mining safer.’’



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