Coal dust was the cause of the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, WV, in April 2010, not methane gas reported by Massey Energy, federal investigators said.
One of the revelations found in the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) investigation was a second set of books kept by management at the Massey owned mine. There is no violation for having numerous sets of books, said Kevin Stricklin, administrator at MSHA. However, at issue was the fact safety violations and hazards were not in the main book made available to miners, safety inspectors, and others. A production book turned over to MSHA by Massey showed numerous hazards underground not noted in the official log.
After more than 23,000 photographs, 18 videos, and hundreds of interviews, the report concluded the main issue was a lack of rock dusting. In fact, 17 violations tied to rock dusting occurred within a year of the blast that killed 29 miners. Stricklin stopped short of saying the explosion was preventable, but he did say the disaster would not have been as great if Massey had operated properly.
“No one should have been injured and definitely no one should died in this explosion,” Stricklin said.
Stricklin said he doesn’t believe MSHA should shoulder the blame for the explosion, but did express regret that more couldn’t be done.
More than a year after the investigation began (investigators couldn’t enter the mine due to various reasons until June 25th of last year); Stricklin said he doesn’t feel as confident about the happenings underground in current mining operations. Before the UBB Mine Disaster, Stricklin said he was confident as the number of mining deaths was trending downwards. Since this investigation they’ve learned more about what happens in mines when their inspectors are not around. They’ve even launched impact inspections where there is no notice to mining operations so they can see the real conditions of a mining operation. So far, he has not been inspired by what they’re seeing.
“It’s been very alarming to me, where we go into a number of mines after the fact of UBB occurring and still find a total disregard for the law,” Stricklin said.