Overnight, the explosion at the Massey Energy mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia has gone from six dead to 25 dead, making it the worst mining disaster in over two decades. With only 200 employees, one out of every eight working at the site died in the explosion. And more are feared dead.
A huge underground explosion blamed on methane gas killed 25 coal miners in the worst U.S. mining disaster in more than two decades. Four others were missing Tuesday, their chances of survival dimming as rescuers were held back by poison gases that accumulated near the blast site, about 1.5 miles into the complex.
Rescuers prepared to drill three shafts going down over 1,000 feet each to release methane and carbon monoxide that chased them from the mine after the blast Monday afternoon, Gov. Joe Manchin said.
The explosion rocked Massey Energy Co.’s sprawling Upper Big Branch mine, about 30 miles south of Charleston, which has a history of violations for not properly ventilating the highly combustible methane, safety officials said.
Yes, a history of violations. Federal regulators at the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) fined Massey Energy over $382,000 in the last year alone for violations at Upper Big Branch, including the very ventilation plan that caused this terrible accident. A look at the MSHA violation site for Upper Big Branch shows that the most recent violation was cited yesterday – yes, yesterday – and have been assessed on an almost weekly basis. Clearly the company saw the fines as part of the cost of doing business. There have been three fatalities at the mine in the past twelve years, but never anything like this.
Massey Energy’s CEO Don Blankenship has a clear record of valuing profit over safety:
This tragedy is the latest deadly disaster to involve coal baron Don Blankenship’s Massey Energy. In 2006, two miners died in a fire at Aracoma Mine after Blankenship personally waived company policy and told mine managers to ignore rules and “run coal.”
Blankenship’s name also may be familiar to judicial watchers; he was involved in a case of buying a judge on the state Supreme Court to overturn a $50 million dollar ruling against his mining operation. He was seen vacationing with a Supreme Court judge in Monte Carlo before the ruling came out.
There were a record-low 34 deaths last year from mining, but this incident is a reminder of the hazards of that work environment, and the need for penalties that change behavior on the part of the coal barons. The MSHA is a division of OSHA, where as a blogger fellow for Brave New Films I’ve been writing about the Protecting America’s Workers Act for a campaign called 16 Deaths Per Day. Yesterday’s tragic incident shows the need for real initiatives protecting worker’s health.
UPDATE: Here’s a sample video about worker safety available at the 16 Deaths Per Day website.