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Miners Die at Alliance Mine Ranked Among Most Unsafe

Two miners died after a roof buckled at an Alliance Resource Partners LP’s mine in Kentucky, an operation ranked by government inspectors as among the nation’s most dangerous.

The accident comes weeks after a blast killed 29 people at Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in four decades. The April 5 blast has triggered calls to fix the industry’s “broken” safety system.

Alliance’s Dotiki mine ranks seventh in the U.S. by the number of “significant and substantial” violations accrued since January 2009, according to U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data. The operation has collected 321 citations, 35 percent more than Upper Big Branch.

“This ain’t rocket science,” said J. Davitt McAteer, a MSHA director during the Clinton administration, who is leading the probe into the Massey disaster. “It’s just like anything else, if you go out and get 15 speeding tickets and kill people when it happens.”

Alliance, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, fell $2.96, or 5.8 percent, to $48.21 in Nasdaq Stock Market composite trading. The shares have gained 11 percent this year.

Significant and substantial, or “S&S,” violations are those that are “reasonably likely to result in a reasonably serious injury or illness under the unique circumstance contributed to by the violations,” according to MSHA.

Mine Shut

The company’s Dotiki operation was shut as rescuers searched for the miners, MSHA said in a statement on its Web site. Efforts were temporarily halted this morning due to “adverse roof conditions,” MSHA said.

“Officials with the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration have located the bodies of the two miners who became trapped” after the roof collapsed, Ricki Gardenhire, a state spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement.

The roof fell at 10 p.m. local time yesterday, trapping the miners, Alliance’s subsidiary, Webster County Coal LLC, said today in statement. The operation produced about 4.2 million tons of coal last year, according to MSHA data.

An investigation into the cause of the accident will begin as soon as the rescuers get both miners, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear said earlier in an e-mailed statement.

Better Enforcement

Joe Main, MSHA’s director, said this week that the agency will simplify the process for elevating enforcement at mines that have the most serious safety flaws.

“We realize the current ‘pattern of violations’ program is broken and must be fixed,” Main said in Senate testimony. “It is too easy for mine operators to evade responsibility and too hard for the government to hold bad actors accountable.”

President Barack Obama ordered a crackdown on mine safety violations following the Massey disaster and MSHA launched an “inspection blitz” of 57 coal mines with a history of underground violations that could lead to an explosion.

Alliance had two operations on the list. Dotiki wasn’t among those targeted. Dotiki has 367 employees and operates on three shifts, two for production and one for maintenance, according to MSHA.

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, said the country must strengthen workplace safety laws and that MSHA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration need more power to penalize companies.

Government Authority

“They need better authority to shut down dangerous workplaces and stronger tools to force employers to remedy problems right away,” said Harkin, head of the Senate Health Committee.

Telephone messages left for an Alliance spokesman, Brian Cantrell, weren’t immediately returned.

“It’s like anything else, if you go out and take care of your business you reduce the likelihood of an accident, but if you push the envelope, you raise it,” McAteer said.

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