West Virginia mine kept separate records for regulators

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Last year, we wrote about the fatal Upper Big Branch mine explosion that killed 29 people in West Virginia. You can read all about it here, here and here.

Although the story of the Massey Energy-owned mine is controversial for many reasons, we were most concerned with the issues that related to the mine violations data collected and processed by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), a government agency. (See what we mean in the video at the end of this post.)

Unfortunately, recent events reveal that there are greater transparency issues afoot: After West Virginian Sen. Jay Rockefeller called for Senate hearings on the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, a subsequent investigation revealed that Massey Energy kept two separate records – a more accurate one for themselves and a cleaned up version for the federal regulators.

In a report by the Washington Post, Kevin Stricklin, a MSHA official said;

Managers were aware that chronic hazardous conditions were not recorded. What they’re required to do is list all the hazards in the official book. This is the book that not only MSHA looks at … but it should be the book that miners and other people who are going into the mine should look at so they would be aware of any conditions in the mine before they go in.

Massey sold the Upper Big Branch mine to Alpha Natural Resources in June 2011. Luckily, the new owners are much more supportive of the ongoing investigations.

Though it’s still early in the process, the results of this investigation reaffirm our call to make public information more available and more searchable, so that we can hold our government more accountable. Indeed, the previous findings by the MSHA indicated that the government officials were quick to blame the blast on natural factors that were triggered by methane gas and coal dust. Now, the federal regulators realize that the mine owners sent in fake information that did not represent what was actually going on at the mine.

The Upper Big Branch Mine disaster is a clear example of how transparency is a two-way street: This incident could perhaps have been avoided if both the regulators and the mine owners did their part in providing the kind of information that would have saved the miners lives.

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