Remembering the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster In Montcoal, WV
On April 5, 2010, the town of Montcoal, West Virginia experienced one of the worst mining disasters in mining history. The Upper Big Branch Mine disaster killed 29 out of 31 total miners and left the mining industry shaken. Later investigations found that Massey Energy along with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) were directly responsible for the explosion. Upper Big Branch Mine was a long wall mine that burst into flames on that fateful day from high methane gas levels that were ignited by heat and propelled by coal dust. According to an accident recreation released by the MSHA, methane was found to be emanating from the mine floor near the tailgate end of the long wall face. Investigators say that the methane was ignited by a heat source. At the time, the sprinkler system was not working due to the fact that seven water sprays were missing from the tailgate drum of the shearer.
The event log indicated that the shearer was shut off after the ignition. The workers then attempted to evacuate. The flames continued to burn, and then encountered even more methane which caused an explosion. According to the MSHA, "This methane explosion involved about 3,000 cubic feet of a methane-air mixture. The flame from this methane explosion created enough heat and energy to suspend and ignite coal dust from the mine roof, ribs and floor, resulting in a massive coal dust explosion." Had there not been a significant amount of coal dust present, the methane explosion would only have lasted a few seconds. The flames finally slowed when they reached the North Glory Mains section of the mine.
Extracting the miners from the mine after the explosion proved incredibly difficult. Conditions were so bad that it was later reported that rescue teams unknowingly passed by the bodies of four miners. There were safety chambers in the mines that could have safely sustained the miners for a few days, but the miners did not make it to those chambers. Conditions were so bad that investigators had to wait nearly two months in order to investigate due to toxic gases.
The MSHA is the entity responsible for investigating mining accident, implementing and enforcing regulations. An independent investigation team from West Virginia, not associated with the MSHA, released their findings on May 19, 2010 which concluded that Massey Energy (the mine operator) along with the MSHA were at fault for the accident that killed 29 miners. Massey Energy was at fault for a failure to adhere to safety standards listed in the Mine Act of 1977 and the MSHA was held responsible for failing to take serious actions against Massey after issuing 515 citations against them. In the end, Massey settled their criminal liabilities for $209 million. One individual, superintended Gary May, also recently pled guilty to personal criminal liability in relation to the accident for conspiring to stop the MSHA's regulation enforcement efforts.
The attorneys at Mani Ellis & Layne, PLLC remember this tragic event well. It serves as an example to the mining industry that adhering to safety regulations can mean the difference between life and death. Coal mining is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States, and many brave West Virginians are employed in this field. We are proud to fight for the rights of miners. Were you injured in an accident while at work? Don't hesitate to contact a personal injury attorney at our firm today. We can help hold the negligent party responsible for their actions so that you and your family get your deserved compensation.