Massey Energy has been slapped with a federal citation, accusing the mining giant of blocking the investigation into the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, the deadliest U.S. coal mine explosion since 1970.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration said Tuesday that it cited the Richmond, Va.-based coal company on Nov. 10. The citation says a Massey employee refused to provide water for a pressure test on sprayers on the Upper Big Branch mine's main mining machine.
The longwall shearer sprays water to help control coal dust and sparks.
Twenty-nine miners were killed and two seriously injured when a powerful explosion tore through the underground mine some 50 miles south of Charleston on April 5. The blast is the subject of criminal and civil investigations.
Massey fired back at MSHA with this statement: "Sadly, certain MSHA officials wish to avoid any resolution of the issue and have engaged in a campaign of media leaks and misinformation to exacerbate the conflict." The company goes on to say running water through the machinery might actually destroy evidence.
Massey General counsel and Vice President Shane Harvey (below right with Don Blankenship) says the Richmond, Va.-based coal company strongly disagrees with the citation issued Nov. 10. Harvey says Massey isn't refusing to cooperate with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Harvey says the company wants more time to examine a key area before complying by supplying water to the area where the MSHA wants to test sprayers on mining equipment.
MSHA said Wednesday it has given Massey until Friday to resolve the situation. The company had been ordered to abate the violation by Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, the chief executive of Massey Energy Company, told investors that natural gas, not methane, caused the explosion last spring that killed 29 miners.
During a speech at an investor conference, Massey CEO Don Blankenship (left) said company investigators have discovered the mine was inundated with natural gas when the explosion occurred.
Natural gas is more volatile than methane.
Such a finding would bolster Massey's contention that the explosion was caused by a huge quantity of gas unexpectedly overwhelming various safeguards.
Huffington Post, "MSHA: Massey Energy Cited For Impeding West Virginia Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster Investigation", accessed November 19, 2010
MSNBC News, "Feds cite Massey Energy for impeding W.Va. probe", accessed November 19, 2010
Yahoo News, "Feds cite Massey Energy for impeding W.Va. probe", accessed November 19, 2010
The State Journal, "Feds Cite Massey Energy in Upper Big Branch Probe", accessed November 19, 2010
WSET, "Massey disputes citation for impeding probe", accessed November 19, 2010
The Examiner, "MSHA cites Massey Energy for impeding their UBB investigation", accessed November 19, 2010
West Virginia Public Broadcasting, "Massey blames natural gas for Upper Big Branch blast", accessed November 19, 2010