UBB miners' legacy lies in safety improvements

AS THE US coal industry last week marked the two-year anniversary of the 29 men who lost their lives in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, a call went out for the miners’ legacy to rest with the continued improvement of the nation’s mine safety system.

Lauren Barrett

At 3.27pm on April 5, 2010, 29 miners lost their lives after an explosion ripped through the UBB mine which was then owned by Massey Energy.

A memorial service was held last week to mark the anniversary, with a minute’s silence held at 3.01pm local time to remember the workers killed in the Raleigh County blast.

A wreath was expected to be placed at the state capitol’s West Virginia coal miner statue to pay tribute.

Industry groups paid tribute to the lives lost in the disaster, with United Mine Workers of America president Cecil Roberts issuing a statement.

Roberts urged the public to pray for those who were most impacted by the tragedy.

“They [the families] have suffered more than most of us can imagine and the pain of losing their loved ones is something that will be with them every single day,” he said.

“They have a hole in their hearts that can never be fully healed but through continued love and prayers from all of us, we can hope they may eventually find some measure of peace.”

West Virginia’s congressional leaders also took time out to mark the anniversary of the tragic event, with US representative Nick Rahall calling for the need to learn from the disaster.

“Two years ago, 29 good and decent men perished in the Upper Big Branch mine – a tragedy that never should have occurred,” he said.

“From that day forward, April 5, 2010 was destined to be remembered as the day of one of the worst coal mine tragedies in this nation's history.

“I continue to hope, however, that it may also be a date that marks a turning point in our national commitment to miners.”

Rahall said he remained determined to improve the health and safety of coal miners.

“I remain committed to working to pass legislation that will prevent bad-actor operators – a small minority of our coal companies – from calculatingly breaking the law and putting their own miners in danger for the sake of profit,” he said.

“Let us commit ourselves to ensuring that the 29 miners of the Upper Big Branch mine leave a legacy of needed improvements to our national mine safety system.”

Meanwhile, non-profit group Remember the Miners said it hoped all West Virginians would join in the moment of silence and say “thank you” to the state’s coal miners.

Remember the Miners honorary chairman Bob Huggins said coal miners played an important role in America.

“They [miners] work hard, are representative of the character and resilience of West Virginia’s people and they truly power America,” Huggins said.

“To the families of Upper Big Branch and all of those who have been lost: we will never forget.”

Since the explosion, a handful of reports have been released on the possible cause of the explosion including reports from the US Mine Safety and Health Administration, the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, the United Mine Workers of America and an independent panel commissioned by former governor turned US senator Joe Manchin.

WVOMHST’s findings concluded that a machine cutting through sandstone to reach the coal created the heat or spark that methane needed to ignite.

Broken water sprayers then failed to stop the fireball from turning into a much more powerful explosion which was fuelled by coal dust.

In what was believed to be a response to the disaster and to prevent future disasters, Virginia governor Earl Ray Tomblin officially signed his mine safety bill into law last month.

Tomblin’s legislation comprised several improvements to mine safety, including a strengthening of requirements for rock dusting and methane standards.

The UBB mine in Raleigh County has been closed since the 2010 blast.

Owned by Massey Energy at the time of the incident, it was last year sold to Alpha Natural Resources in the producer’s takeover of Massey.

On the day of the anniversary, Alpha announced it would permanently close the operation.

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