Apr 12, 2010
On April 5, 29 coal miners were killed in an underground methane explosion in the Massey Energy Company’s Upper Big Branch mine, near Montcoal, West Virginia.
The Massey company “is certainly one of the worst in the industry” regarding safety, said a former assistant director of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
That may be true! But the assistant director’s own agency did nothing to stop it!
During 2006 and 2007, Upper Big Branch was cited 204 times for “serious and significant” violations, twice the national average. The MSHA warned Massey – without shutting it down – that it was considering stricter oversight. Massey reduced its violations to the national average – for six months – and then allowed them to shoot up again, to double the average again! The MSHA let it go, merely issuing more violation notices, assessing the small fines that amount to less than a mosquito bite on Massey’s profits.
In 2009, Upper Big Branch had over 500 recorded safety violations, including at least 50 recorded as “serious,” including four for violating its own ventilation plans. All indications are that poor ventilation, allowing methane buildup, was the cause of this explosion.
Where was the MSHA during all these years? Filling out violation forms! Writing tickets for mosquito-bite fines! And where was the Massey Energy Company? “Running coal.” As CEO D.L. Blankenship wrote in a 2005 memo to his underlings, “If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal ... you need to ignore them and run coal.” This memo was part of a court case against Massey, brought by the widows of two miners killed in Massey’s Aracoma mine in 2006.
A West Virginia writer called her home state “a national sacrifice area.” Yes, human sacrifices, to the gods of profit. A mine safety authority said, safety is “no big secret. It’s time and money.” But coal companies – Massey is only one of the culprits – take that time and money away from safety, to run coal for their greater profit. And the government has helped them do it every step of the way.