Saturday, April 10, 2010

Please Forgive Me, But I Just Don't Feel Uplifting Tonight.



No Survivors Found After West Virginia Mine Disaster

MONTCOAL, W.Va. — An agonizing four-day wait came to a tragic end early Saturday morning when rescue workers failed to find any survivors in an underground mine after a huge explosion earlier this week.
The death toll caused by Monday’s explosion was the highest in an American mine since a 1970 explosion killed 38 at Finley Coal Company, in Hyden, Ky. The blast at Upper Big Branch comes four years after a pair of other West Virginia mine disasters — an explosion that killed 12 miners at the Sago mine and a fire that killed two at the Aracoma Alma coal mine. 

Although written before the remaining miners were found,
the following article lays out the situation at this mine
and is worth reading in its entirety.
(Clicking on the city name at the beginning of each excerpt
will take you to the complete article.) 
Throughout the ordeal we had been hearing bits and pieces,
but here they are strung together to reveal a pattern of
greed and disdain for human life,
endemic in a company that treats its workers as disposable.
Pay special attention to the first sentence. Emphasis mine. 
Here are just a few highlights:

Deaths at West Virginia Mine Raise Issues About Safety

MONTCOAL, W.Va. — The mine owner’s dismal safety record, along with several recent evacuations of the mine, left federal officials and miners suggesting that Monday’s explosion might have been preventable.

In the past two months, miners had been evacuated three times from the Upper Big Branch because of dangerously high methane levels, according to two miners who asked for anonymity for fear of losing their jobs. Representative Nick J. Rahall II, a Democrat whose district includes the mine, said he had received similar reports from miners about recent evacuations at the mine, which as recently as last month was fined at least three times for ventilation problems, according to federal records.

The Massey Energy Company, the biggest coal mining business in central Appalachia and the owner of the Upper Big Branch mine, has drawn sharp scrutiny and fines from regulators over its safety and environmental record.
Kevin Stricklin, an administrator with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, said the magnitude of the explosion — the worst mining accident in 25 years, which also left four people missing, [...] — showed that “something went very wrong here.”

“All explosions are preventable,” Mr. Stricklin said. “It’s just making sure you have things in place to keep one from occurring.”

Mr. Rahall said that even veteran rescue workers, some with decades of experience, had told him they were shocked by what they saw inside the mine. They said they had never witnessed destruction on that scale, Mr. Rahall said, or dealt with the aftermath of an explosion of that magnitude.
“Violations are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process,” Mr. [Don L.] Blankenship, [Massey’s pugnacious chief executive] said.

“There are violations at every coal mine in America, and U.B.B. was a mine that had violations,” he added, referring to Upper Big Branch.

“I think the fact that M.S.H.A., the state and our fire bosses and the best engineers that you can find were all in and around this mine, and all believed it to be safe in the circumstances it was in, speaks for itself as far as any suspicion that the mine was improperly operated,” Mr. Blankenship said.
But miners and other workers in the mine took issue with Mr. Blankenship’s reassurances.

“No one will say this who works at that mine, but everyone knows that it has been dangerous for years,” said Andrew Tyler, 22, an electrician who worked on the wiring for the coal conveyer belt as a subcontractor at the mine two years ago.

Mr. Tyler said workers had regularly been told to work 12-hour shifts when eight hours is the industry standard. He also said that live wires had been left exposed and that an accumulation of coal dust and methane was routinely ignored.

“I’m willing to go on record because I am a subcontractor who doesn’t depend on Massey for my life,” Mr. Tyler said.

In March alone, the Mine Safety and Health Administration cited the Upper Big Branch mine for 53 safety violations.

Last year, the number of citations issued against the mine more than doubled, to over 500, from 2008, and the penalties proposed against the mine more than tripled, to $897,325.

I grew up in a beautiful area
just north of coal country in Pennsylvania.
Several of my girl friends from high school
married miners and live daily with knowledge that
they too might one day face this hell.
I have never been able to hear the news of
mine explosions or collapses without my insides seizing up,
and as more facts about the company's willful
contempt for safety regulations come to light,
the feeling I have is closer to contempt.
There is a legislative trail to be followed
that shows exactly how they can do it without fear of
any meaningful repercussions;
and over the next week or so I will attempt to lay it out for you.
But tonight anger keeps my thoughts in turmoil.
Please keep these families in your hearts.

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