Massey Energy Co. has been cited for impeding the government’s investigation of the deadliest U.S. coal mine explosion since 1970, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said.
A Massey employee refused to help government investigators supply water to test the pressure of sprayers on the cutting head of the main mining machine at the Upper Big Branch mine Nov. 10, according to a copy of the citation released by MSHA.
“Mr. (Charlie) Bearse was told that this action impedes MSHA’s investigation and that a violation … would be issued,” the citation says. “He replied, ‘Serve it to my name.”‘
The incident is the second time Massey has violated federal law by impeding the investigation, MSHA said.
Massey did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“MSHA intends to continue discussions with Massey to achieve a mutually acceptable solution,” the agency said in a statement. “To that end, we extended the time for abatement of the citation that was issued on Nov. 10 to Nov. 17 at 12 p.m. While completing our respective investigations is an important concern, assuring the safety of underground personnel while we do so is paramount.”
MSHA suspects the April 5 explosion started with methane gas, then spread across more than a mile of the Upper Big Branch mine as it fed on explosive coal dust.
MSHA has said that laboratory tests of dust samples show excessive amounts of coal dust were present across a broad area of the mine.
The Associated Press reported in September that handwritten records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showed Massey miners found excessive coal dust across much of the area affected by the explosion just minutes before the blast.
Modern mining equipment sprays water as it cuts through coal and rock to control dust and sparks that can ignite methane. The gas occurs naturally in coal and is released as it’s cut.
Massey insists dust played a minimal role, if any, in the explosion. The company has engaged in an often bitter war of words with MSHA.
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