Feds Fine West Virginia Coal Operation $763K over Dust Hazard

Federal officials fined an Alpha Natural Resources subsidiary more than $763,000 for repeated safety violations at a West Virginia coal operation, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said.

Alpha’s Kingwood Mining Co. was cited 13 times in a one-year period for allowing coal dust to accumulate along conveyor belts at its Whitetail Kittanning Mine, MSHA said. Five of the citations were assessed as flagrant violations, which can carry fines as high as $220,000.

Coal dust along conveyer belts is a common cause of coal mine fires, including a high-profile blaze that killed two miners at a West Virginia mine in January 2006.

“The result of coal dust accumulating underground could have been a catastrophic fire or explosion,” MSHA director Richard Stickler said in a prepared statement. “It is especially troublesome that the mine operator failed to take any corrective action, despite its own records and prior notice from MSHA that clearly indicated the need for corrective actions to protect the safety of miners.”

Alpha believes the penalties have no merit and intends to contest them, company spokesman Ted Pile said.

“No one was hurt as a result of these alleged violations and there were no ignitions or fires. MSHA did not order the withdrawal of miners during any of these inspections. If MSHA truly believed that there was an imminent danger of a fire or explosion, they have the right and the duty to order the employees out of the mine,” Pile said in an e-mail. “We always put the safety of our miners ahead of everything. Kingwood’s safety record at the Whitetail Mine is far better than the national average for other underground mines of similar size.”