MSHA issues July round of citations to coal operators under ‘impact’ inspection program

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration said Aug. 29 that federal inspectors issued 262 citations, 19 orders and three safeguards during special impact inspections conducted at eight coal mines and five metal/nonmetal mines in the month of July.

The monthly inspections, which began in force in April 2010 following an explosion at the 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, said MSHA.

As an example from July, MSHA conducted an impact inspection on July 17 at Rebco Coal Inc.’s Valley Mine No. 1 in Kentucky during the day shift. MSHA personnel captured and monitored the communication systems to prevent advance notification of the inspection to workers underground. MSHA issued 54 citations and nine orders on the day of the inspection, followed by five more 104(b) withdrawal orders for the operator’s failure to abate the outstanding violations, the agency said.

Notable is that all such MSHA findings are just accusations and can be appealed by the cited operator to a federal mine safety commission.

Inspectors found alleged violations at Rebco related to inadequate examinations, the mine’s ventilation plan and the maintenance of electric equipment. The operator failed to conduct pre-shift examinations of the belt conveyor entry prior to miners working and traveling in the area, as well as adequate on-shift examinations of the belt conveyor entries. Inspectors also found that the operator did not properly maintain electric face equipment and failed to conduct adequate electrical examinations, the agency said. The continuous mining machine was found cutting coal on the wrong side in conflict with the MSHA-approved ventilation plan, and the area had only a third of the required amount of ventilation. Several water sprays on the machine were functioning with only half of the required water pressure, and the ventilation curtain used was not properly placed.

Inspectors issued to Rebco a failure-to-abate order during the impact inspection because the operator had not removed accumulations of combustible materials such as empty rock dust bags, empty wooden pallets, garbage in three crosscuts along the intake roadway and small trash piles at various crosscuts along the intake. The accumulation of the combustible materials standard has been cited 24 times in a two-year period at this mine. Five other failure-to-abate orders were issued because the operator had not corrected violations on the roof bolting machine’s automated temporary roof support systems, section power center, roof bolter and fire suppression systems, the agency said. Inspectors also observed two faulty circuit breakers and a broken receptacle latch on the power center, and six defects on the roof bolter. This impact inspection was the second conducted by MSHA at this mine which, effective Aug. 10, entered into a nonproducing status, MSHA said.

MSHA hits mine made famous by reality television show

As a second example from July, MSHA conducted an impact inspection on July 17 at Cobalt Coal Corp. Mining Inc.‘s Westchester deep mine in McDowell County, W.Va. That mine was featured in a 2010-2011 reality series on the Spike television network called  “Coal.” The inspection party captured the phones to prevent advance notice of the inspection. Inspectors issued 47 enforcement actions, including one imminent danger order, 39 citations, six unwarrantable failure orders and one safeguard. This impact inspection was the mine’s first.

An imminent danger order was issued at Westchester when stray electrical current was detected on the frame of the section power center and the No. 2 shuttle car. The operator was cited for failing to maintain the underground electrical system in a safe operating condition. In total, 15 citations and orders were issued for not maintaining face equipment in permissible condition, as well as violations relating to electric equipment, trailing cables, grounding and underground high voltage distribution. The stray electrical current and other cited hazards could have electrocuted or seriously injured miners.

The Westchester mine operator also failed to conduct weekly examinations on the roof bolter, complete the examination of the conveyor belt in its entirety, and perform adequate examinations of the alternate escapeway between the belt drive and the working section, MSHA said. The inspectors observed hazardous conditions on the directional lifeline and tripping/stumbling hazards in the walkway directly under the lifeline. These conditions should have been discovered during examinations and then corrected to provide miners with safe passage in the alternate escapeway during a mine emergency and while working underground.

The Westchester operator also was cited for violations of standards covering roof and rib control, fire suppression and ventilation. Of 17 ventilation violations, one was not following the approved ventilation/methane dust control plan where the air quantity in the last open crosscut was approximately one-fourth of what is required. Inspectors found water accumulation up to 11 inches deep in the primary intake escapeway for a distance of 40 feet in an area with a mining height of 58 inches. These conditions, if left uncorrected, affect the effectiveness of the mine’s ventilation system to control and remove methane, respirable dust and other contaminants from the miners’ working environment.

Other July inspection targets included a Virginia Fuel operation in Virginia of coal operator Jim Justice, the Sidney Coal operation in eastern Kentucky of Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR) and Deseret Power Electric Cooperative‘s Deserado mine in Colorado, which is the captive coal supplier to Deseret’s Bonanza power plant in Utah. Notable is that Sidney Coal, along with what was left of the Upper Big Branch mine, was picked up in June 2011 by Alpha in its buy of Massey Energy. Alpha has said it has made great strides since then in fixing Massey’s deficient mine safety program.

Since the April 2010 Upper Big Branch blast, MSHA said it has conducted 477 impact inspections, which have resulted in a total of 8,545 citations, 852 orders and 36 safeguards.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.