24 09 19

first_imgInternational Mining reported on the Upper Big Branch disaster, and the resulting investigation, in its June Leader. Then fingers were being pointed at the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) with claims that MSHA changes to the ventilation system may have caused the worst mining disaster in the US for decades. Now Massey Energy has released a strong statement after MSHA abruptly dismissed staffer, Stephen Gigliotti, from the Upper Big Branch (UBB) probe because he was involved in a prior MSHA investigation at the mine.Massey pointed out that the revelation of an MSHA employee, with obvious conflict of interest issues, being permitted to serve as a member of MSHA’s UBB inspection team further reinforces the need for an independent inquiry into the April 5 accident. The company questioned whether MSHA has the intent to collaboratively work with other team inspectors in uncovering the true causes of the UBB accident in a manner that is unbiased and objective.Over the last several weeks, Massey Energy along with the United Mine Workers of America, UBB families and those in the editorial community have been insisting on an open investigative process into what happened at UBB. An investigation that is independent, open to the public and fully transparent would, they argue, prevent such egregious conflicts from arising.“Full disclosure and impartial examination of the facts should be the underlying purpose of the UBB investigation. However, based on Gigliotti’s past participation in the inquiry, it is quite apparent that MSHA has ulterior motives to protect itself from scrutiny.” the firm commented.Massey Energy has also disclosed a July 15, 2004 report by the MSHA regarding two previous methane outbursts at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine. Importantly, the report contained recommendations inconsistent with MSHA’s recent handling of ventilation at UBB.Handwritten notations on the front of the report indicate that the report was anonymously placed under the door of MSHA District Manager Bob Hardman on May 21, 2010. Subsequently Gigliotti was dismissed from the team because he was involved in the 2004 investigation by MSHA. Massey Energy continues to maintain that a wholly independent investigation of the explosion is in order because of MSHA’s role in the ventilation system at UBB.MSHA personnel internally discussed prior methane outbursts at UBB in July 2003 and February 2004 that occurred when cracks in the mine floor allowed methane to escape into the mine. MSHA personnel recommended that a number of steps be considered to address the potential for future outbursts. The primary recommendation was for increased airflow to dilute the methane at the longwall face and in the gob behind the longwall.Contrary to the recommendation, MSHA in 2009 and 2010 mandated changes resulting in less air on the UBB longwall. Last week, Massey Energy Chairman and CEO Don Blankenship wrote a letter to governors in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Illinois pointing out that MSHA had – over the company’s objection – required decreased airflow at UBB prior to the April 5, 2010 explosion.Recently, Massey has received a number of questions about the discovery of a crack in the mine floor at UBB. Massey can confirm that the underground teams exploring the longwall at UBB last week did observe a crack in the floor near the tail of the longwall. The teams were not able to explore the crack to determine if it was the source of a methane explosion. The crack and other potential sources in the mine need to be fully examined before any conclusions can be reached.“The July 15, 2004 report is very important,” said Blankenship. “MSHA recognised in 2004 that more airflow was necessary to address methane outbursts, should they occur. However, in 2009 and 2010, MSHA required UBB to adopt a ventilation system that resulted in less air. It is too early to determine what role these changes played or to determine the importance of the crack in the mine floor. However, this will be a focal point of our investigation and, we hope, the state and federal investigations.”last_img read more