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Posted at 9:46 AM ET, 01/27/2011

Feds cite mining company with safety violations while Spike TV crew films reality show

By Lisa de Moraes

Cast of "Coal," Spike's new reality series. (Spike)

You know that West Virginia coalmine that's the star of Spike TV's new reality series "Coal," from the same guy who brings you Discovery's "Deadliest Catch"?

Federal inspectors have cited the Canadian coal company they say owns the mine for 19 health and safety violations during the nearly three months the TV crew was filming there.

Ten videographers trained for 80 hours and were certified as apprentice coal miners to work underground at Cobalt Coal Corp's mine. They started shooting the reality series for producer Thom Beers on Nov. 9 and finished Jan. 21.

During that time, Cobalt was cited for 19 violations, nearly half of which the Mine Safety and Health Administration deemed "significant and substantial," or likely to cause serious injury, the AP has reported.

Two of the violations were for allowing highly explosive material, such as coal dust, to pile up, according to MSHA records; three others involved violations of the mine's ventilation plan.

Ventilation plans are important because that's how mines control coal dust and methane gas, which can trigger explosions. MSHA has blamed that deadly combo for the April 5 blast that killed 29 miners at Massey Energy Co.'s Upper Big Branch coal mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia, AP noted. At the time, press reports called that the worst mining accident in the United States since 1970.

On Dec. 15, Cobalt was cited for allowing as much as 10 inches of loose coal and coal dust to accumulate in one area, according to the AP report.

"This is a failure to comply with a mandatory standard and constitutes more than ordinary negligence," the violation notice said.

During Winter TV Press Tour 2011, which took place in January, TV critics asked Cobalt CEO Mike Crowder about health and safety of workers at his mine.

"We do dust monitoring samples on a regular basis -- a lot of the advanced technologies," he responded.

"And the new Miner Act of 2006/2007 put in a lot of mine safety regulations that just hadn't been in place before," he explained, adding, "ventilation is greater than it's ever been before. Dust control -- when you see some of these activities going on underground, the reason that you can film now, where you couldn't before, is there was just too much dust in there."

"We're constantly monitoring for dust and taking dust sampling," Crowder told TV critics.

About three weeks later, Crowder told the AP the number of violations MSHA cites was actually below the industry average and that "overall, the entire mining industry is under greater scrutiny."

MSHA officials did not specify whether the number of violations at Cobalt was unusual, AP reported.

"We welcome the inspections because our hearts are truly pure, and we want to run a safe and clean operation," Crowder said.

On Jan. 5, Crowder told TV critics, "Obviously, we were concerned about the safety. We spent as much time on the preliminary work to get the precautionary measures in place and make sure everybody was going to be safe as much as they have been in filming -- as much time as been filming up till now."

A Spike TV spokeswoman noted Thursday that the MSHA reported the number of citations the agency issued against the country's approximately 2,000 coal mines in 2009 was more than 100,000.

"We had no accidents and no incidents while we were there," the Spike TV spokeswoman told the TV Column.

Thom Beers's calling card is producing popular reality series about people engaged in dangerous occupations. His resume includes "Deadliest Catch," "Ice Road Truckers" and "Ax Men."

By Lisa de Moraes  | January 27, 2011; 9:46 AM ET
Categories:  TV News  
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