Massey investigator denied access to UBB

UPPER Big Branch mine owner Massey Energy has said federal officials have prohibited one of the company’s lead investigators from participating further in the probe of the April 5 blast that killed 29.
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Donna Schmidt

The producer said Dr Christopher Schemel was denied access to the mine indefinitely by the US Mine Safety and Health Administration because he has not received experienced coal mining training.

Conversely, Massey officials said, others without such training – including MSHA personnel – have not been excluded from gaining underground access.

Schemel, with a PhD in fire safety engineering from the University of Edinburgh, is an explosions expert who served with the investigations of the West Pharmaceutical blast in Kinston, North Carolina, in 2001, the 2005 Buncefield Oil Storage explosion in Hertfordshire, England, the 2005 BP Texas City Refinery explosion in Texas City, Texas, and the Sago mine explosion in West Virginia in 2006.

He was also involved with the 2009 ConAgra Foods explosion in Garner, North Carolina, and the 2009 NDK Crystal explosion in Belvidere, Illinois.

Schemel has been working cooperatively with federal and state investigators for the past four months since the explosion in Raleigh County, West Virginia, accompanying individuals from both organizations underground.

“Dr Schemel has been underground at UBB for months and MSHA’s decision to deny him access now does not make sense and is very suspicious, especially when you consider the timing,” Massey vice-president and general counsel Shane Harvey said.

“This mirrors MSHA’s recent refusal to approve our own independent inquiry of the UBB accident.”

The company said Schemel was “eminently qualified” for the duties he has taken on in the investigation.

“MSHA’s efforts to exclude him will not help anyone determine what happened at UBB,” officials said.

Keep watching ILN for more on the Upper Big Branch mine explosion investigation.

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