Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Upper Big Branch Mine Tragedy was One Year Ago Today…

Here in West Virginia we are seriously interested in reforming the coal mining industry – whether easing it out entirely or at least improving the pollution of the air and water due to mining practices – but the most important reform necessary is mine safety,

There have been many regulations passed over the years to improve mine safety including inspections, improved methods and both labor and management responsibilites. One year ago today, however, a company called Massey Energy and an inspection system that was basically ignored, was responsible for an explosion in the Upper Big Branch Mine, Montcoal, WV (about 30 miles south of Charleston.)

29 miners died.

Today,Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, issued this statement:

   “One year ago today, an explosion in the Upper Big Branch Mine took the lives of 29 miners in the worst mine disaster in 40 years.  Mine safety and health took on new meaning as we witnessed the devastation and pain of the families, friends and communities of the miners who perished in that catastrophe.

   “The anniversary of that tragedy brings us fresh resolve to see that an accident of this magnitude never happens again.

   “Over the past year, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has been fulfilling the commitment President Obama made to honor those miners and their families by ensuring justice is served on their behalf and taking action so that an accident like this never happens again. As the anniversary of this tragedy so vividly reminds us, we in the mining community must continue to work tirelessly to ensure that miners go to work and return home safe and healthy to family and friends, every shift of every day.”

Upper Big Branch had a history of serious problems. In 2009, Massey Energy, was fined a total of $382,000 for “serious” unrepentant violations for lacking ventilation and proper equipment plans as well as failing to utilize its safety plan properly. The month before, authorities cited the mine for 57 safety infractions. Upper Big Branch received two citations the day before the explosion and in the last five years has been cited for 1,342 safety violations. The CEO of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, has received criticism for his apparent disregard of safety. The Upper Big Branch Mine-South, where the explosion occurred, has been in operation since October 1994. Between 2000 and 2009, two fatalities occurred at this mine.

Yet mining went on as usual and an explosion occurred on April 5, 2010. It is not yet certain what the actual cause was, though a methane explosion, largely preventable by proper ventilation, is being closely examined. Federal regulators had ordered portions of the mine closed 60 times over the year preceding the explosion. In addition, the FBI has reportedly also launched a probe, investigating possible criminal wrongdoing at the mine, including criminal negligence and possible bribery of federal regulators.

But today, we remember the 29 men whose lives were taken in the disaster and hope that such a tragedy will be avoided in the future.