The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration said June 27 that federal inspectors issued 158 citations, 26 orders and three safeguards during special impact inspections conducted at nine coal mines in May.
In a separate two-day inspection blitz, MSHA inspectors targeted 40 underground coal mines formerly owned by Massey Energy, where they issued 225 violations. Massey, a frequent target of MSHA criticism, was bought in June 2011 by Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR). Alpha quickly promised to fix Massey’s mine safety program. The incident that precipitated these extra inspections was a burned conveyer belt at the Road Fork No. 51 mine in Wyoming County, W.Va. No similar violations were found during the subsequent 40 inspections, MSHA noted.
The monthly impact inspections, which began in force in April 2010 following the explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia that killed 29 miners, involve mines that merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to their poor compliance history or particular compliance concerns. Since April 2010, MSHA has conducted 452 impact inspections, which have resulted in a total of 8,106 citations, 811 orders and 32 safeguards.
As an example of the May safety blitz, MSHA conducted an impact inspection on May 16 at K and D Mining Inc.‘s Mine No. 17 in Harlan County, Ky. MSHA personnel arrived at the mine during the second shift, capturing the phones to ensure that no advance notice of their presence was given to in-mine personnel. Among 43 violations issued were 16 unwarrantable failure withdrawal orders. Inspectors found that the continuous mining machine was operating with the ventilation curtain rolled up and a 60-foot-deep visible cloud of dust. Water pressure on the machine was inadequate, MSHA said, and several sprays were inoperative.
Withdrawal orders also were issued for other hazardous conditions, including accumulations of combustible materials on conveyer belts, defective and stuck belt rollers, a nonpermissible pump starter in the return air shaft, and inadequate electrical and on-shift examinations. Such a confluence of hazards can create conditions that lead to methane and coal dust explosions. The mine was shut down for nine days after the inspection until the operator corrected the hazardous conditions.
“Mine operators know full well the consequences that occur when these kinds of conditions exist, and we cannot and will not tolerate this type of noncompliance that endangers miners’ lives and leads to potentially disastrous results,” said Joseph Main, the head of MSHA. “What goes on at some of these mines when MSHA is not there is of great concern and likely would not be detected if it were not for the special tactics MSHA employs.”
On May 2, in another example, MSHA personnel conducted an impact inspection at Pay Car Mining Inc.‘s No. 58 mine in McDowell County, W.Va., during the evening shift. The inspection party again secured the mine’s phones. MSHA issued nine citations, one unwarrantable failure citation and six unwarrantable failure orders. This impact inspection was the mine’s second. The mine also had been issued a notice for a potential pattern of violations (POV) in November 2011. The mine subsequently implemented a corrective action program and met the target criteria, and it continues to be monitored for a potential POV.
During the May inspection, inspectors found that the operator failed to follow an approved mine ventilation plan on two working sections. Although the mine has a history of methane liberation, MSHA found insufficient ventilation in two mine entries, the last open crosscut of one mining mechanized unit section, and the working faces and last open crosscut of another such section. Pay Car Mining was issued five unwarrantable failure orders when no air movement could be measured using calibrated anemometers and, in one instance, the blades of the anemometer reversed, indicating that the ventilation was flowing in the wrong direction.
Also, in the area in the Pay Car mine where a continuous mining machine was operating, inspectors found that the ventilation line curtain rolled up to the mine roof, and 18 feet of curtain across the break were missing. Ventilation to another working face was not provided because 27 feet of curtain were missing, MSHA said. Additional citations were issued for inadequate roof control, faulty electrical equipment and a conveyor belt, and accumulations of combustible materials.
Other mines inspected in May included the Dora 8 mine in Pennsylvania of Alpha’s AMFIRE Mining Co. LLC unit (this is not an ex-Massey mine), the Hopedale mine in Ohio of Rhino Resource Partners LP (NYSE: RNO) and the Copley Trace mine in West Virginia of coal operator Jim Booth’s Argus Energy WV LLC.
Any citations or orders issued by MSHA are appealable, and they often are appealed, to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.