UBB owner indignant after UMWA, MSHA mine tour

MASSEY Energy is concerned about the preservation of evidence underground at its Upper Big Branch mine after a tour was conducted there last week by representatives of the United Mine Workers of America and the US Mine Safety and Health Administration.
UBB owner indignant after UMWA, MSHA mine tour UBB owner indignant after UMWA, MSHA mine tour UBB owner indignant after UMWA, MSHA mine tour UBB owner indignant after UMWA, MSHA mine tour UBB owner indignant after UMWA, MSHA mine tour

Massey chief Don Blankenship.

Donna Schmidt

The tour on Thursday included sections of the Raleigh County operation that exploded April 5 and left 29 workers dead.

According to Massey officials, the important procedures of mapping and photography have not yet commenced on the investigation.

“It is unheard of for MSHA to parade non-technical political operatives through critical areas of the UBB mine without first having key pieces of evidence in these sections properly secured,” company general counsel Shane Harvey said.

“Individuals are literally stepping on potential evidence before it has been photographed, mapped or preserved. This hampers the ability of investigators to identify key evidentiary facts that can point to the exact cause of the UBB accident.”

Harvey added that the agenda and “rush-to-judgment desires” of UMWA president Cecil Roberts, in particular was well known, and his presence as “nothing more than a gawker” interfered with the investigation because the evidence was unprotected.

“By conducting a tour of an accident scene before proper investigatory protocols have been complete, MSHA continues to undermine the integrity of the data collected from UBB,” company chairman Don Blankenship said.

“Once evidence in key sections of the mine has been documented and preserved, I am looking forward to going underground with investigators. Our goal all along has been to understand what happened at UBB and learn from it so it never happens again.”

Roberts, a fifth-generation coal miner who worked underground before he was elected to his UMWA seat, said that he was initially invited on the tour by MHSA following a request by Blankenship to tour the underground workings.

“MSHA agreed, and invited the leaders of the other organizations participating in the investigation to participate as well,” he said, noting that UMWA was a designated miners’ representative in the investigation.

Roberts was accompanied underground by union occupational safety and health administrator Dennis O’Dell, who argued that incidents such as UBB “aren’t supposed to just happen” in today’s mining industry.

"Somebody either did something – or didn’t do something – that caused this explosion,” he said.

"Massey management’s safety track record doesn’t give anyone much confidence that the company had safety first in mind at UBB.

“The testimony that has already been heard by the House Committee on Education and Labor from the miners who worked there makes it clear that, as with other Massey operations, management was interested in production first and put safety a distant second.”

UMWA said the investigation into April’s blast should be about determining cause so that future incidents can be prevented.

"Unfortunately, that’s not what Massey appears to be interested in doing,” O’Dell said.

"Instead, they are playing the public relations equivalent of a con game, directing public and media attention away from the company’s long record of safety and environmental problems, including being assessed some of the largest fines ever levied against a coal company."

MSHA officials also told the Associated Press Friday that the invitation to tour the mine came from Blankenship.

When investigators declined to allow him access to the suspected starting point of the explosion, he skipped the tour, according to an agency spokesperson. However, Massey representatives did join officials on a tour of other parts of the mine.