MSHA silent on internal probe approval: Massey

UPPER Big Branch mine owner Massey Energy is still waiting for federal approval of its plan to conduct a separate investigation into the blast in April that killed 29 workers.

Donna Schmidt
MSHA silent on internal probe approval: Massey

“As of Wednesday afternoon, more than a week after the state of West Virginia approved Massey’s request for company investigators to immediately begin their own onsite investigation, US Mine Safety and Health Administration officials still have not permitted Massey investigators to initiate their autonomous probe,” the company said.

“This delay amounts to valuable lost time for Massey investigators and is hindering the progress of the investigation.”

Under the Mine Act, operators are required to conduct internal investigations of incidents. While state approval has been received, the company cannot commence any work on its own probe until MSHA indicates its approval.

Officials said a team of some of the nation’s best experienced accident investigators has been assembled to perform a thorough review into the April 5 explosion.

“Massey once again calls on MSHA to approve the company’s investigation plan as the state of West Virginia has done and to do so promptly,” the producer urged.

“The families, the legacy of the UBB miners, and the future of mine safety demands that MSHA acts immediately in approving this plan.”

MSHA officials did not respond to an ILN request for comment Thursday.

Massey announced September 28 that West Virginia mine safety officials had given their plan the green light.

“Massey, as well as UBB family members who want to get to the truth, are very excited to finally have our experts view the mine together,” chief operating officer Chris Adkins said last month.

He noted at the time that, while serving as the day-to-day director of investigative efforts, MSHA had limited the number of participating Massey Energy individuals to one person per inspection team.

That move prevented explosion, geology, mining engineering, electrical engineering and mining ventilation experts from collaborating on cause and being joint investigative contributors at a point when time is crucial.

“Every day, evidence is deteriorating,” Adkins said.

“We need MSHA to approve our plan quickly, as the state has done.”

MSHA lead investigator Norman Page has testified that Massey would be allowed to conduct its own investigation after the federal probe was completed.

The agency reported last week that its underground review was 90% complete, leaving the producer waiting for approval to investigate areas already logged by federal officials.

MSHA spokesperson Amy Louviere told ILN at that time that the agency was still reviewing the company’s plan and that it would be meeting with Massey officials.

“MSHA must carefully review this plan before considering any modifications to its section 103(k) order at Upper Big Branch Mine-South, so as to ensure the safety of miners and investigators underground,” she said.


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