UMWA made its report on the Sago mine tragedy public Thursday via a posting on its website and a formal announcement in Washington, DC.
Specifically, the group said: “…frictional activity from the mine roof, roof support or support material, which created an electrical arc underground that ignited an explosive methane-air mixture in the sealed area.”
Unlike prior reports from other parties, it did not cite a lightning strike or strikes and it stood by its opposition on the topic: “There is absolutely no clear evidence to support the theory that lightning was the cause.”
The 124-page document (68 pages of which contain the report) was dedicated to those who lost their life throughout 2006 and clearly pointed the finger at International Coal Group and MSHA as the responsible parties.
Several factors, including decisions of mine management, were highlighted in the report. Regarding the mine’s “dangerous” mining methods, the union said: “The extremely rare practice of ‘second mining’ that was employed at Sago created entry heights in excess of 18 feet in some areas, which is inherently dangerous because it increases hazards associated with roof falls and rib rolls.”
In addition to detailing the role of both the operator and MSHA in an incident such as that one, the union also illustrated the part that seals, methane accumulation and other forces played in the events of that day. It also outlined the escape attempt of the 2nd Left crew, how the crew donned and used the self-contained self-rescuers, the destruction of the mine’s infrastructure, barricading and tracking devices, and what the UMWA referred to as “the failure to secure evidence and control the minesite”
The 12 lives lost as Sago were unnecessary, said union president Cecil Roberts.
“Their deaths came as the result of a series of bad decisions made by the company and the federal mine safety regulatory agency,” Roberts said.
“Some of these decisions were made in the weeks and months immediately prior to the explosion and in the hours immediately after it. Some of these decisions were made many years prior to the explosion.”
Basically, it was those “misguided decisions”, regardless of timing, that were a factor in the explosion of January 2, 2006, Roberts said. “Without immediate action by mine operators and regulatory agencies to reverse the effects of these decisions, more tragedies are inevitable.”
MSHA assistant secretary of labor Richard E Stickler told at least one media outlet Thursday that the agency “share[s] the goal of improving safety for America’s miners and that it is also seeking answers to the cause of the blast”.
“MSHA’s investigation is ongoing, and we will take appropriate actions based on our findings,” Stickler said.
Sago mine owner ICG also responded via a public statement late Thursday. “[It] is wholly unreliable as an investigatory finding and is designed solely to further the union's political and organising agenda,” ICG president Ben Hatfield said.
He maintained the findings of the other released reports citing lightning were and still are accurate. “Three independent investigations have already presented comprehensive findings on the Sago mine accident, including those issued by J Davitt McAteer, special adviser to Governor Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Office of Miner's Health, Safety and Training (WVOMHST) and the company.
“All three investigations concluded that the explosion was caused by a lightning strike that ignited methane gas that had naturally accumulated within a sealed and abandoned area.”
Hatfield said ICG had been committed to the development of technology post-Sago and had been an active participant in the testing of devices such as wireless communication.
“The UMWA has rolled out this so-called report with its usual bombast; however, upon closer review the report is simply a propaganda piece designed to criticise and undermine the state and federal mine regulators and ICG, whose miners continue to work union free," he stated.
“The UMWA’s report does not present any new facts or scientific analyses to support their unfounded accusations.”
The entire document can be downloaded in PDF form at http://www.umwa.org/Sagoreport.pdf.