The report is the first of several investigative reports to be released on the incident at Performance Coal Co. in Montcoal. Performance is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Massey Energy. The report contains 10 findings and 50 recommendations, McAteer said. Some of the recommendations were suggested after the Sago and Aracoma disasters in 2006.
McAteer also addressed the need for new technology, which could help monitor conditions inside mines.
McAteer’s report lists numerous failures that led to the Upper Big Branch mine explosion. Ventilation systems were not adequate or maintained. Water nozzles, which are intended to knock down dust and sparks, were disabled or plugged on the mine’s longwall and on the shearer.
McAteer also outlined why federal and state agencies did not catch and correct the problems. Individuals at MSHA and the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training attempted to fix the problems. But both agencies are understaffed, he said. The state inspector for the UBB mine had not been on the longwall since December 2009.
McAteer placed much of the blame on Massey Energy, which owned the mine.
McAteer revealed there was actually a series of explosions that occurred within milliseconds of each other, making it seem like one large explosion. In his report, McAteer said the incident was completely preventable. The report explained the explosion was caused by a spark from a piece of machinery which ignited methane gas, which in turn ignited volatile coal dust. Rock dust, which is used in mining to help make the highly explosive coal dust inert, had not been spread in the area of the explosions for quite some time.
The report explicitly ruled out earthquakes, thunderstorms and barometric pressure as contributors to the explosion.
Investigators found evidence the miners closest to where the explosion originated knew something was wrong, the report states. The longwall crew had moved away from the shearer and shut down equipment in the area. “This shutdown is standard industry procedure when potentially serious problems occur on a longwall, and it is something that had to be done manually.”
Massey Energy disagreed with the report’s conclusion about the cause of the explosion. “We agree with Davitt that the industry needs to examine whether it can achieve better methane monitoring technology,” Massey Energy’s General Counsel Shane Harvey said in a prepared statement. “At UBB, all methane monitors were functional and yet the mine experienced a massive inundation of methane-rich natural gas that was not detected in time to prevent the explosion. We have been examining where improvements in methane monitoring can be made, and we hope to develop some better technologies as a result of our investigation.”
The report is available at http://www.wju.edu.