According to the Associated Press, the group completed the required 80-hour training program, the same protocol as any new miner in West Virginia. Filming is set to begin in about a week at Cobalt Coal’s Westchester operation in McDowell County.
State safety inspector Bill Tucker told the news service that the state’s industry officials were concerned about potential accidents and hazards when it learned of plans for “Coal” in October, but as the show’s producers had gone the extra mile he was confident the correct precautions were being taken.
A spokesperson for the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training told ILN it had no comment beyond Tucker’s AP interview. Officials for the US Mine Safety and Health Administration did not return a request for comment Tuesday.
The Spike TV network announced the 10-episode, one-hour documentary/reality series last month. “Coal” will center around miners’ lives and work at the southern West Virginia operation.
The program will be shown through the eyes of mine co-owners Mike Crowder and Thomas Roberts, and will feature the operation’s management and workers.
Spike said every aspect of the underground mining environment would be shown.
"Coal mining is an integral part of the American economy and the lifeblood of communities across the US and the world," network executive vice-president Sharon Levy said at the time.
"This series is going to shine a light on the brave men and women and their families who endure the rigors of this arduous profession."
The plans were met with criticism from both state and federal officials, especially considering the short period of time since the Upper Big Branch explosion in April as well as the alarmingly high number of mining deaths to date in 2010.
In fact, West Virginian governor Joe Manchin told the media the show was “just too dangerous”
“That’s not the place to do it,” he said.
Cobalt president Thomas Roberts said in October the project would be taken on with great care.
“Mining is a very regimented type of environment and highly regulated, and we’re going to operate in a safe, productive manner,” he said.
Calgary-based Cobalt Coal announced in late May it had recommenced coal production at the room-and-pillar Westchester operation.
The southern West Virginia mine was initially operated from the final quarter of 2008 to the second quarter of 2009, but was idled as a result of the global recession which led to a significant fall in metallurgical demand.
Cobalt owns a 60% after payout interest in Westchester and operates the mine through wholly owned subsidiary Westchester Coal.
Created two years ago, Cobalt is concentrating on developing an asset base in the Appalachian region and intends to later look at international ventures.