West Virginia Dominates List of Most Dangerous Mines

By westvirginia on April 15, 2010
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Over 20 mines in West Virginia were included in a list of 48 mines nationwide that the Mine Safety and Health Administration said needed “increased scrutiny” in August 2009.

The list was released yesterday by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif, chair of the House Education and Labor Committee. According to a press release from his office, these mines escaped added scrutiny due to the amount of of contested violations clogging up the appeals system.

If these mines hadn’t appealed their citations, they would have received letter notifying them of possible ‘pattern of violation’ letters, which would have required these mines to take “immediate” action in order to fall within compliance. According to the press release, letters go out when a mine receives “20 significant and substantial violations, two elevated enforcement actions, and one unwarrantable failure violation over the previous 24 months.”

“We owe it to the families of these fallen miners, all mining communities across the country, and the American people to ensure that all relevant information regarding potentially dangerous conditions at mines be made public, especially as investigations into the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine continue,” said Miller. “Mine operators who game the system to avoid tough scrutiny by federal safety officials must be held accountable.”

In the press release Bell blames miner operators for clogging up the appeals process, which has a backlog of 16,000 operator appeals. In the case of the Upper Big Branch mine, operated by Performance Coal and owned by Massey Energy, a computer glitch prevented a pattern of violation letter from being mailed out. The mine exploded last week, killing 29 miners in the worst coal mine disaster in nearly 40 years.

West Virginia Watchdog took a look at the list provided by Rep. Miller and broke down the numbers. We looked at the total number of citations issued between April 2009 and present. Out of the 48 mines listed as most dangerous, 32 of those mines are coal mines and 22 of those mines are in West Virginia – nearly half all mines listed in the report.

Massey Energy’s coal mines took up five spots on the most dangerous list: the Allegiance Mine, Liberty Processing, and the Roundbottom Powellton Deep Mine all located in Boone County; and the Slip Ridge Cedar Grove Mine and the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County. Massey was cited 1,247 times for violations at these mines over the last year. The MSHA shows that 522 of those citations were closed, 415 are being contested, and Massey is delinquent in paying the penalties on 72 of those citations.

The next runner up was Patriot Coal, which has three coal mines on the most dangerous list. These include the American Eagle Mine and Winchester Mine in Kanawha County, and the Big Mountain No. 16 mine in Boone County. Patriot was cited 1,080 time for those three mines over the past year. However, only 407 of those citations were closed and 489 are currently contested, 74 more than Massey.

Rounding out the top five most dangerous mines was Coalfield Transport’s Broad Run Mine with 627 citations, Mountain Edge Mining’s Coalburg No. 1 Mine and Dorothy No 3 Mine with 554 citations combined, and Argus Energy’s Deep Mine No. 8 and the Copley Trace Surface Mine with 282 citations total.

Gov. Joe Manchin in an executive order, requested all coal operators and inspections “cease production for one day to engage in a thorough review of safety procedures and to take whatever actions are needed to ensure the mine’s compliance with health and safety standards. In addition, the governor has ordered immediate state inspections of underground mines, with the priority being the mines that have had the greatest number of violations for combustion risks.”

“Mine health and safety laws are in place to protect our coal miners, but it’s clear that a breakdown occurred and we lost 29 miners who should be with us today,” Manchin said in a press release.

“While the state and federal investigations of this horrific accident will be carried out the next several months, I strongly believe that stopping production to focus specifically on mine safety gives our mines and their employees the opportunity to identify problems that need corrected immediately.”

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Posted under Featured, Federal, Negligence, News, Regulations, Transparency, U.S. House of Representatives.
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2 Comments For This Post So Far

  1. Robin Hale
    4:40 pm on April 15th, 2010

    You can make all the regulations you want, but if the miners themselves don’t follow the rules, then you have disasters like what just happened.

    When I worked underground as a red-hat, I saw my fellow black hats:

    1. Move a single head pinner with no cat head. The electrical cables were stuck in the machine with 2 screw drivers. My fellow black hats asked me to stand down the break and watch for the foreman because they knew what they were doing was wrong. I said, ‘ No thanks! I’ll stand in fresh air, thanks, because in-by is illegal.’ My union brothers just thought I was stupid.

    2. I also witnessed the miner operator 27 feet out from under the last row of roof support. When I questioned why, the foreman sent me down the fresh air escape to look for some bradish and never answered my question. He was trying to get me to stop asking questions when they knew what they were doing was strictly illegal.

    3. I saw my union brothers knocking out permanent roof support and no temporary timbers set in case the roof collapsed.

    4. And the best was when the boss asked me if I wanted to run the face at the beginning of the shift. When we got there, the methane was 11 % and the power was already on. When I asked why the power was already on, the boss told me that the men sometimes got happy and turned on the power BEFORE he could fireboss the face. We had to hang curtain to remove the 11 % methane at the face. The most explosive range of methane is 5 to 15 %.

    Coal mining is dangerous but just like any dangerous job, it ( for the most part ) all depends on the men working there. It’s kinda like the dust machines they give the miners to wear to measure the amount of coal dust they are exposed to. Well, they don’t work if the miner throws that dust sampler into the dinner hole at the beginning of the shift and retrieves it at the end of his shift. It measured nothing!… and it’s a sure fire bet that that miner won’t get his black lung because he’s never been exposed to coal dust.

    May God have Mercy on the miners and their families!

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