November 27, 2020

Mine Owner’s Negligence Led to Blast, Study Finds

 The report, issued Thursday by an independent team appointed by the former West Virginia governor, Joe Manchin, and led by the former federal mine safety chief Davitt McAteer, echoed preliminary findings by federal officials that the blast could have been prevented if Massey had observed minimal safety standards.

 But it was more pointed in naming Massey as the culprit, using blunt language to describe what it said was a pattern of negligence that ultimately led to the deaths of 29 miners on April 5, 2010, in what was the worst American mining disaster in 40 years.

 “The story of Upper Big Branch is a cautionary tale of hubris,” the report concluded. “A company that was a towering presence in the Appalachian coalfields operated its mines in a profoundly reckless manner, and 29 coal miners paid with their lives for the corporate risk-taking.”

A spokesman for Virginia-based Massey was not available for comment Thursday morning. Company executives invoked their Fifth Amendment rights, and refused to be interviewed. The 120-page report chronicles the explosion, pieced together through months of interviews, documents, data and correspondence. Workers at the mine had long known the conditions were risky, and the report opens with a passage about the fear that one miner felt the day before he died in the disaster.

 “Man, they got us up there mining, and we ain’t got no air,” the miner, Gary Wayne Quarles, told his friend Michael Ferrell, who talked to investigators. “I’m just scared to death to go to work because I’m just scared to death something bad is going to happen.”

The report goes on to say that a “perfect storm” was brewing inside the mine, combining poor ventilation, equipment whose safety mechanisms were not functioning and coal dust, which, contrary to industry rules, had been allowed to accumulate, “behaving like a line of gunpowder carrying the blast forward in multiple directions.”

 Investigators also take issue with the conclusion offered by Massey officials — that the explosion occurred when a giant burst of methane bubbled from the ground, a natural event that would have been impossible to predict or control.

The damage inside the mine was not consistent with that theory, investigators said. Among the evidence was the bodies of the miners in the area of the main explosion: only two had methane in their lungs.

“If, as Massey investigators maintained, one million cubic feet of methane had been suddenly released,  the result would have been a five million cubic foot flame going across the face and throughout the tailgate entries in both directions,” the report said, referring to areas of the mine.

It added, “Evidence found during the investigation does not suggest a force of this magnitude.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=8dcfea0fca22af77d7a1d7ef38f7a22b

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