Massey Energy Co. managers pressured coal miners to fabricate safety reports to mislead inspectors before the 2010 West Virginia mine explosion that killed 29 people, federal investigators said.
Kevin Stricklin, the assistant administrator of coal at the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, said his agency’s investigation of the April 2010 blast found duplicate books on daily mine operations. On several occasions in the months before the blast, the books didn’t match, he said. One set told inspectors there were no serious issues while internal reports revealed many hazards, he said.
“Managers were aware that chronic hazardous conditions were not recorded,” Stricklin said at a briefing for families of victims who died in the explosion, which was the worst U.S. mining disaster in 40 years. “Management pressured examiners to not record hazards in the books.”
Massey agreed in January to be acquired by Alpha Natural Resources Inc. for $7.1 billion. Ted Pile, an Alpha spokesman, said the company would look at the agency’s conclusion as part of a separate probe of the fatal blast.
“We heard this information for the first time from MSHA at the same time everyone else did,” Pile said in an e-mail.
Stricklin said Massey managers had to countersign books at the Upper Big Branch mine and knew that the hazards, from low air flow to high levels of explosive gas, went unreported.
A West Virginia investigator said in a report last month that Massey is to blame for the fatal explosion at the mine. An investigation by Massey concluded that the explosion was beyond its control, and was a naturally occurring event caused by an inundation of natural gas.
MSHA plans to complete its own investigation this fall.
“This explosion could and should have been prevented by the mine operator,” Stricklin said.