During the afternoon, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) released the final report on its investigation (see related story). The date held special significance regionally as it is also the anniversary of the 1907 Monongah mine disaster that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of West Virginia miners.

Alpha agreed to make payments and safety investments totaling $209 million in connection with the criminal investigation of an explosion at the UBB mine located near Montcoal, W.Va., April 5, 2010. “Today’s agreement represents the largest-ever resolution in a criminal investigation of a mine disaster and will ensure appropriate steps are taken to improve mine safety now and will fund research to enhance mine safety in the future,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. “While we continue to investigate individuals associated with this tragedy, this historic agreement—one of the largest payments ever for workplace safety crimes of any type—will help to create safer work environments for miners in West Virginia and across the country.”

As part of a “non-prosecution” agreement, Alpha will invest at least $80 million in mine safety improvements at all of its underground mines, including those formerly owned by Massey. Alpha will also place $48 million in a mine health and safety research trust, to be used to fund academic and non-profit research that will advance efforts to enhance mine safety. In addition, the company will pay restitution of $1.5 million to each of the families of the 29 miners who died at UBB, and to the two individuals who were injured, for a total restitution payment of $46.5 million. Alpha also will pay a total of up to $34.8 million in penalties owed to MSHA, including all penalties that arise from the UBB accident investigation.

This settlement, according to the DoJ, is the largest-ever resolution in a criminal investigation of a mine disaster. It addresses only the corporate criminal liability of the former Massey, not potential criminal charges for any individual. The criminal investigation of individuals associated with Massey remains ongoing.

Since acquiring Massey, Alpha has cooperated fully with the authorities and has implemented extensive measures to improve health and safety at legacy Massey operations. “We believe the agreements we’ve reached represent the best path forward for everyone,” said Kevin Crutchfield, CEO, Alpha Natural Resources. “We’re particularly pleased that a substantial portion of the settlement is going toward furthering miner safety, which has always been Alpha’s guiding principle. We’re mindful that the Justice Department investigation arose from a terrible tragedy which took the lives of 29 miners. Our thoughts will always be with the fallen miners and our sympathies with their families.”

The remedial safety measures included in the agreement include the following:

  • Installation of digital monitoring systems in all of its underground mines to continuously monitor compliance with ventilation requirements and to ensure mines are free of potentially explosive methane gas;
  • Implementation of a plan to ensure that each of its underground mines has the personnel and resources necessary to meet all legal requirements concerning incombustible material and accumulations of coal dust and loose coal;
  • Purchase state-of-the-art equipment to monitor its mines for explosive concentrations of coal dust and use that equipment in all its underground mines;
  • Purchase next-generation rock dusting equipment (pending MSHA approval), further enhancing its ability to combat explosion hazards;
  • Installation of oxygen cascading systems to help miners make their way to safety if a serious accident should occur; and
  • Building of a state-of-the-art training facility and implementation of a full training curriculum to train Alpha miners, which will be available to other mining companies.

The former Massey work force of more than 7,000 people has been trained in Running Right, Alpha’s behavior-based safety process, which builds on transparency and empowering employees to make safety and workplace improvements. Employees are encouraged to speak up by submitting suggestions and then participating in developing and implementing action plans. In the first four months after acquiring Massey, Alpha devoted more than 60,000 hours of training to this effort, and safety performance has improved as a result.

Alpha said it has begun a second phase of training specifically targeting those with supervisory responsibilities, focused on two fronts: Running Right leadership and safety compliance. Since June 1, 450 supervisors have completed leadership training and more than 1,000 certified mine examiners have completed safety skills training and extensive safety compliance training. Alpha has also conducted emergency response training for mine foremen, superintendents, safety staff and management in all its business units.

Alpha said has also devoted considerable resources to review mine plans at all the former Massey operations. Those reviews have included ventilation surveys and modeling at underground mine sites, as well as analysis of geological, structural and roof support. To help expedite this work, the company has hired additional technical services professionals and additional safety specialists.