Thursday, June 30, 2011

Coal is Even Dirtier than I Thought

In April of last year, I wrote a post about just how dirty "clean" coal is. Yesterday's New York Times showed that it's even dirtier than I thought.

According to an article by Sabrina Tavernise, "...Massey Energey, the owner of the West Virginia mine where 29 men were killed in an explosion last year, misled government inspectors by keeping accounts of hazardous conditions out of official record books where inspectors could see them." Massey was acquired by Alpha Natural Resources this month.

The 5 April 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine was the worst U.S. mining disaster in 40 years.

That double books on hazards were kept was only one of many damning findings of the federal investigators' report. In addition, required gas readings were not recorded. Required air readings were not recorded. Training of miners was inadequate or non-existent. Miners were intimidated into not slowing or stopping production for safety reasons.

(The Times has posted the complete report of the West Virginia governor's independent investigation panel, released in May of this year; information about the federal investigation, which is apparently continuing, is available at the Mine Safety and Health Administration site, here)

Massey blamed a "massive inundation" of natural gas for the explosion, according to a report it released in early June, apparently without permission from its parent company. From the government investigations, it appears that coal dust -- improperly allowed to accumulate, highly explosive, and prone to spontaneous combustion -- was at fault.

"Alpha Natural Resources called the report's release 'inappropriate,'" according to an article by E&E Publishing reporter Manuel Quinones.

Just how "inappropriate" was it? Quinones wrote,
In a cover letter accompanying the report, Bobby Inman, the former Massey chairman, said the report's release was delayed to avoid bad publicity in advance of the Alpha-Massey merger. The delay was requested by Alpha executives and major Massey shareholders, he said.
Quinones also reported that "Alpha said it would conduct its own probe into the Upper Big Branch disaster and promised to cooperate with pending government investigations, including a criminal probe by the U.S. Department of Justice."

Two people have been indicted so far. Some of us are waiting for a lot more.

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