Preliminary report to Obama: W.Va. mine had 'significant history of safety issues'
The Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, where 29 miners were killed in an explosion last week, "was a mine with a significant history of safety issues, a mine operated by a company with a history of violations, and a mine and company that [federal regulators were] watching closely," according to preliminary federal report on the disaster sent to President Obama this afternoon.
The report by the Mine Safety and Health Administration said that the mine, which is owned by Performance Coal, a subsidiary of Massey Energy, said that in four of the past five years, the number of "serious and substantial" violations at the mine -- the most serious citations issued by MSHA -- were higher than the national average.
The report says:
"In what is perhaps the most troubling statistic, in 2009, MSHA issued 48 withdrawal orders at the Upper Big Branch Mine for repeated significant and substantial violations that the mine operator either knew, or should have known, constituted a hazard. Massey failed to address these violations over and over again until a federal mine inspector ordered it done. The mine’s rate for these kinds of violations is nearly 19 times the national rate."
Even though the Upper Big Branch Mine received 515 MSHA citations in 2009, three other Massey mines received more citations last year, the report said.
In terms of enforcement, MSHA is limited, the report says:
"MSHA does not have the authority to shut down a mine based upon a set number of violations. However, MSHA does have the authority to place a mine into a 'pattern of violation' category based upon a number of criteria including the number of serious violations in a 24 month timeframe. In 2007, in response to a spike in significant and substantial violations in the previous 24 months, MSHA notified Upper Big Branch that it was being placed on 'potential pattern of violation' status, the first step in the pattern of violation process. If a mine ultimately ends up in 'pattern of violation' status, MSHA can issue withdrawal orders for every serious violation until each violation is fixed. This is a significant event, and one that mine operators are careful to avoid."
The report is not void of political language: "The policies this Administration inherited make it relatively easy for operators like Massey to avoid pattern of violation status." Not, "The policies in place." Instead, "the policies this Administration inherited..." A not-so-subtle slap at the Bush administration.
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April 15, 2010; 5:45 PM ET
| Tags: Barack Obama, Coal mining, Massey Energy, Mine Safety and Health Administration, United States, Upper Big Branch, West Virginia, west virginia mine disaster
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