At the conclusion of the question and answer session, senior-level company officials were made available to meet one-on-one with family members to answer any additional supplemental questions on the investigation or claims. 

“The purpose of the meeting was to keep the families informed of key developments associated with the UBB investigation,” said Don Blankenship, CEO and chairman, Massey Energy. “Massey Energy will continue to do our part in updating families on key information obtained during this continuing inquiry.”

Key briefing issues discussed:
•  Methane monitors at the longwall section had not been disabled;
•  There was a crack in the mine floor on the longwall section;
•  Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) methane gas data readings indicate the mine experienced a sudden inundation of unusually high levels of methane gas;
•  Mine seals were still intact and not breached;
•  Massey’s investigation is limited by MSHA investigation protocols; and
•  The investigation is still ongoing—new facts to be discovered.

On the day of the explosion, the mine experienced a sudden inundation of unusually high levels of methane gas. This release of methane was almost three times greater than normal liberation rates for the mine.

Analysis of the methane data supplied by MSHA taken from the Bandytown Fan, the primary ventilation exhaust, demonstrates several important points. First, the unexpected release of methane gas into the UBB mine was intense and overwhelming to the normal safety systems. “To put it in perspective, a methane release of this size would completely fill a 2,000 sq-ft house with an explosive atmosphere in under 40 seconds, and could fill the volume of a typical mine entry to explosive levels in under 25 seconds,” said leading explosions expert and Massey UBB investigation team member, Dr. Christopher Schemel.

Prior to the meeting with families, two former, high-ranking federal mining regulators, David Lauriski, president, Safety Solutions International (and former head of MSHA), and Michael Lawless, a former Deputy Administrator of MSHA, said the agency has exceeded its legal authority by barring the company from photographing and conducting other tests at the UBB mine.

Massey Energy wants to take its own photographs, conduct electronic mapping and take coal dust samples as part of the investigation. The two former regulators have signed declarations supporting Massey Energy in its legal action against MSHA. The legal challenge asks the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission to overturn MSHA’s order against Massey.

Lauriski said the prohibitions imposed by MSHA “are extraordinary and problematic,” have nothing to do with miner health or safety and exceed MSHA’s authority under federal law. Also, he said, MSHA has never before imposed such restrictions on a mine operator during an accident investigation.

Massey, he said, has the right “to take photographs during such inspections and investigations [of a mine after an accident], to map a mine or an area of a mine to take dust samples and observe and/or participate in evidence testing without impeding or interfering with MSHA’s inspection or investigation.”

Lauriski added, in his professional opinion, allowing Massey to take pictures, to map and to sample coal dust would not interfere with the federal investigation—and, he noted, Massey has offered to share all of any information it gathers with federal investigators.