In late June, federal investigators from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) held a public briefing to deliver updates on their ongoing 15-month probe into the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster which killed 29 miners last year.
MSHA officials stressed that the explosion at the mine, owned by Massey Energy and operated until the time of the blast by its subsidiary Performance Coal Company, was avoidable. The report read: “This explosion could and should have been prevented by the mine operator.”
Investigators said that the company failed to disclose hazards at the mine in reports provided to government inspectors. “We found there to be two sets of books,” said Kevin Stricklin, the coal administrator for MSHA.
According to MSHA, Massey’s subsidiary Performance Coal kept two sets of records at their mine. The “official” book was shown to government inspectors while the production book, which detailed production and safety concerns, was not. According to the report, “hazards recorded in production and maintenance reports” were “not listed in required examination books.”
Stricklin said that testimony from some of the 266 witnesses MSHA interviewed “indicated that management pressured examiners to not record hazards in the books.”
In June, Massey Energy was sold to rival coal company, Alpha Natural Resources.