Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster – CoalSwarm
The Upper Big Branch mine disaster occurred on April 5, 2010 at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine at Montcoal in Raleigh County, West Virginia. Twenty-nine miners were killed following an explosion 980 feet underground. Two miners were hospitalised. The accident was the worst in the United States since 27 miners were killed at Orangeville in Utah, in 1984.
The explosion occurred at 3:27 PM local time on Monday, April 5, 2010, at the Upper Big Branch Mine South near the community Montcoal, about 30 miles (48 km) south of Charleston. The mine was operated by the Performance Coal, a subsidiary of Massey Energy. High methane levels were detected, and subsequently an explosion from an unknown source occurred. Mine-safety experts said explosions are typically caused by high levels of methane produced during longwall mining, which mining companies try to dilute with ventilation systems, although Massey has been repeatedly cited for violating this requirement. Twenty-five men were initially identified as killed. Four missing men were later found dead four days later for a total of 29 deaths. Officials have speculated that it may have been caused by a spark from a mantrip.
Read more at http://sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Upper_Big_Branch_Mine_Disaster.
- ↑ Massey Energy, “Update on Rescue Efforts From Massey Energy”, Media Release, April 10, 2010.
- ↑ James Melkle,“US mine explosion leaves 25 dead: Four miners still missing after blast at West Virginia plant” The Guardian, April 6, 2010.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 “West Virginia Mine Blast Kills Seven”, The Wall Street Journal, April 5, 2010.
- ↑ Amelia A. Pridemore, “Drilling efforts to vent deadly mine could take up to 48 hours” Register-Herald, April 5, 2010.
Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster — Official MSHA page
A single source page of information and resources hosted by MSHA regarding the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion which occurred on April 5, 2010. MSHA will be adding material to this page as it becomes available. New additions will be noted and an indication that the page was updated will be posted on MSHA’s home page as well.
Read more at: http://www.msha.gov/PerformanceCoal/PerformanceCoal.asp
Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster
The Upper Big Branch Mine disaster occurred on April 5, 2010 about 1,000 feet (300 m) underground at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine at Montcoal in Raleigh County, West Virginia. Twenty-nine out of thirty-one miners at the site were killed. The explosion occurred at 3:27 pm. The accident was the worst in the United States since 1970, when 38 miners were killed at Finley Coal Company’s No. 15 and 16 mines in Hyden, Kentucky.
This entry is excerpted from Wikipedia. Read the full entry at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upper_Big_Branch_Mine_disaster.
Alpha: Upper Big Branch will be permanently sealed
April 4, 2012
Alpha Natural Resources, the nation’s second largest coal producer by revenue announced it will be permanently closing the Upper Big Branch Mine (UBB) near Whitesville, W. Va., where 29 miners died in a mine explosion in April of 2010. Alpha purchased Massey Energy, the owner of UBB at the time of the accident, in June of 2011 while the mine was idled.
All points of entries including portals, boreholes, and mine fan shafts will be sealed with concrete to prevent future access while the disturbed surface area will be reclaimed. The work is expected to commence this summer.
Alpha is working on the plan to seal UBB with the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training.
Alpha tops 2011 safety fine list, report says
March 21, 2012
The Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration cited more coal mines owned by Alpha Natural Resources then all other publicly traded coal companies, according to a report from the corporate business intelligence group SNL financial.
The company received nearly $33 million in proposed fines from the federal agency, which put them at the top of the list for fines assessed in 2011. CONSOL Coal came in second with $6.8 million in assessed fines.
According to the SNL report, in fairness Alpha operates the most coal mines in the U.S of any public coal producer, most of which are underground where mining is more complex and requires more workers.
Alpha stated that their purchase of Massey Energy “inflated” the assessment because of the $12.4 million in citations from the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch Mine.
Excluding those fines, according to the report, Alpha was assessed $20.3 million still placing them far above the rest at the top.
Read article at http://wvgazette.com/News/montcoal/201203210150
Internal Review outlines missed inspections, weak enforcement at Upper Big Branch
March 6, 2012
On Tuesday, March 6, the U.S. Mine Safety and Heath Administration released its internal review of the agency’s actions before and after an explosion that killed 29 miners on April 5, 2010 at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia.
The review identified numerous shortcomings of the agency’s District 4 inspection and plan approval processes including lack of experience and oversight of federal mine inspectors and their ability effectively outline and enforce the law. The review even points to budgetary constraints in 2006 that led to a lack of resources and experience
According to the review, after April 2010, MSHA put forth nine corrective actions to address the identified shortcomings;
- An emergency temporary standard, which became a final rule in June 2011, that increased the minimum combustible content of mine dust to at least 80 percent throughout a coal mine.
- A strengthened potential pattern of violations program to hold mine operators more accountable for safety and health conditions.
- Proposed rules that would revise the agency’s existing regulation for pattern of violations, address the continuing risk of coal miners’ exposure to respirable coal mine dust and require improved examination of work areas by underground coal mine operators.
- Impact inspections that target mines with a history of noncompliance.
- Program information bulletins on compliance with ventilation regulations, illegality of advance notification, the right of miners to make hazardous condition complaints and legal protections against discrimination.
- The creation of District 12 to provide additional resources in conjunction with District 4 in southern West Virginia.
- Mandatory and refresher training for field office supervisors and inspectors.
- Upgrading computer systems and equipment at the National Air and Dust Laboratory in Mt. Hope, W.Va.
- Creating top level oversight of special enforcement initiatives, including accountability audits, impact inspections, POV and flagrant violations, and a tool on all inspectors’ laptop computers to flag potentially flagrant violations.
Read report at http://www.msha.gov/MEDIA/PRESS/2012/NR120306.asp and article at http://wvgazette.com/News/201203060076
Ex-Massey security director gets three years in UBB case
February 29, 2012
The Southern District of West Virginia Judge Irene Berger sentenced former Massey Energy security director, Hughie Elbert Stover, 60 to three years in prison on Feb.29 for lying to investigators and trying to destroy evidence in an on-going investigation of one the worst coal mining disasters in U.S. History.
Stover also received two years’ probation and was fined $20,000.
Seeking a 25-year sentence, prosecutors alleged Stover’s now two convicted felonies played a central role in the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch mine. However, Judge Berger stated there was little evidence to support linking Stover’s crimes to the miner’s deaths.
The charges against Stover came after federal Mine Safety and Health Administration investigators disclosed his role in a Massey practice of warning workers of impending safety inspections, which played a major role in the mine disaster, according to investigators.
Read article at http://wvgazette.com/News/201202290125
UBB mine manager charged with conspiracy
February 22, 2012
A superintendent for W. VA.’s Upper Big Branch mine was charged Wednesday, Feb. 22, with conspiring among others to violate mine safely laws and block federal regulators from enforcing safety requirements. The Upper Big Branch Mine is under investigation by federal prosecutors probing into the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.
Ex-superintendent Gary May, 43, could receive up to five years in prison if found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the government’s mine safety and heath enforcement efforts.
Specifically, May is charged with disabling methane gas detectors, falsifying safety records, and warning employees to conceal violations before future government inspections during the two years prior to the April 5, 2010 explosion.
Prosecutors believe mine safety and health laws were routinely violated by May and others because of the belief that following those laws would decrease production. May oversaw production of the southern portions of the Upper Big Branch mine after having started in 2008 as a mine foreman.
So far, May is the third person to be charged in the ongoing federal criminal investigation of the mine.
Read article at http://www.wvgazette.com/News/201202220038
UBB deal calls for safety improvements, resolves fines
December 6, 2011
Federal officials have announced a settlement with Alpha Resources over the company’s liability for the April 2010 explosion in the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine that killed 29 miners. Alpha will have to pay $200M in total covering safety improvements, payments to the families of victims, and other related items; in exchange Alpha will not have to plead guilty to any of the corporate charges and the federal government has agreed to never bring such charges against Alpha.
However, there is no such indemnity agreement covering individuals within the now-defunct Massey Energy organization which owned the mine at the time of the disaster. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said resolution of issues with Alpha allows prosecutors to focus their resources on potential cases against such individuals. This is a dramatically different outcome than the result of the investigation following the fire at Massey’s Aracoma Mine which killed two miners in 2006; in that case, the settlement barred the government from pressing charges against the company or any of its employees.
Read article at http://www.wvgazette.com/News/201112060055
UBB probe looking at questions about Massey board
December 3, 2011
As federal investigator begin to wrap up their investigation into the causes of Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, one remaining question is how much Massey Energy board members knew about safety issues before the explosion. An explosion in the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 miners on April 5, 2010. Investigations since by multiple agencies as well as Massey have been working ever since to identify what caused the explosion and what could/should have been done before it to prevent it.
In the year before the explosion Massey administrators were warned by experts at least three times that the mine was not properly cleaning up the explosive coal dust that detonated in the explosion. But safety reports from the administrators to the board seemed to downplay those warnings, calling the results of the audits “positive and compliance was generally good”. Other summaries to the board omitted some of the information about rock-dusting compliance and included statements saying managers “have systems or plans in place to effect changes and improvements in compliance levels.”
Read article at http://wvgazette.com/News/montcoal/201112030091
Ex-Upper Big Branch security director found guilty
October 26, 2011
Hughie Elbert Stover, former director of security at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine has been convicted of destroying evidence and lying to federal officials as they investigated the explosion in April 2010 that killed 29 mine workers. Stover now faces sentencing of up to 25 years in prison for the two felony convictions.
The conviction is a result of families coming forth after the accident to describe Massey’s practice of using security guards to warn underground miners as federal inspection officials arrived for surprise inspections, which is currently only a misdemeanor offense with a maximum prison term of 6 months. But because he order his subordinates to destroy the documentation that this happened, officials increased the charge of destroying evidence, which is a felony.
Read article at http://wvgazette.com/News/201110260060
Former UBB worker gets jail for faking license
September 22, 2011
Thomas Harrah of Seth, WV has been sentenced to 10 months in prison for faking the foreman’s licence that he used at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine and the lying to investigators about it. Harrah had previously pled guilty to faking a foreman’s license and using it from January 2008 to August 2009 at the Upper Big Branch mine, but said that he had lied when he told to investigators that Massey officials had helped him get the fake license.
While Harrah performed key safety inspections at UBB during the time he pretended to be a foreman, he was transferred to another mine eight months before the April 5, 2010 explosion; federal officials have not claimed that he was responsible for that explosion. The only other person to face criminal charges in the wake of the disaster is security director Hughie Elbert Stover, who is accused of trying to divert government agents investigating the disaster. He is scheduled for trial in October.
Read article at http://wvgazette.com/News/201109221802
Questions Remain Year After W.Va. Mine Explosion
April 9, 2011
NPR’s Howard Berkes has written a series of articles summarizing what’s known about the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine one year after the tragedy.
- Questions Remain Year After W.Va. Mine Explosion Even though a year has already passed, much is still unknown about the UBB tragedy. To start with, how was such a tragedy possible under modern mining rules and regulations? “I’ve been in MSHA for 31 years and I’ve never seen 29 fatalities,” says Kevin Stricklin, administrator for coal mine safety and health at the Mine Safety and Health Administration. “This takes us back to the ’60s or ’70s, this explosion.” The article further explores Massey’s claim that the explosion was a natural disaster, their emphasis on maximizing production and its increased pressure on miners, and their claim that safety and efficiency carry equal importance.
- After W. Va. Mine Blast, Confusion Impeded Search and Emergency Reports Detail Slow Mine Blast Response offer detailed analysis of logs of radio traffic, 911 calls, records kept by Massey, starting with the first call to emergency officials a full 25 minutes after the explosion to the West Virginia’s Mine Industrial Rapid Response. The safety director of the mine starts the call with a calm “I want to report an emergency,” reports an “an air reversal on the beltline and CO [carbon monoxide] 50 to 100 parts per million,” and when asked if there are any injuries, he says “No. The mine is being evacuated at this time.”
- Hour By Hour: Emergency Response to the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster A detailed interactive timeline showing the events associated with the tragedy starting with the explosion at 3:02pm on April 5, 2010 and continuing through April 13, 2010 when the last nine bodies are removed from the mine and it was sealed for investigation. The timeline was reconstructed from more than 20 hours of recorded emergency radio traffic, printed 911 logs and notes from the mine itself.
- Coal Mining’s Perils And Politics: A Massey Energy Timeline This interactive timeline shows major incidents involving Massey Coal over the last decade starting with a 200M gallon coal sludge spill in October 2000 and continuing through the Marsh Fork Elementary School trial that Massey won in March 2011.