MSHA puts three coal operators on notice for pattern violations

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration announced Nov. 28 that four mining operations have received letters putting them on notice about a potential pattern of violations (PPOV) of mandatory health or safety standards under Section 104(e) of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977.

The PPOV screening from which these letters resulted represents the third since MSHA established the current criteria and procedures in September 2010. The four mines that received warning letters are:

  • Ten-Mile Coal Co. Inc.’s No. 4 mine in Harrison County, W.Va. MSHA data shows that this company is controlled by coal operator David Maynard, that the No. 4 mine is active and that it produced 267,798 tons in the first nine months of this year;
  • Pike Floyd Mining Inc.‘s No. 3 mine in Pike County, Ky. MSHA data shows this company is controlled by Jimmy Tackett, that the No. 3 mine is active and that it produced 34,798 tons in the first nine months of this year;
  • Argus Energy WV LLC‘s Deep Mine No. 8 in Wayne County, W.Va. Argus Energy WV is controlled by coal operator Jim Booth, with MSHA data showing Deep Mine No. 8 as active and with production of 228,707 tons in the first nine months of this year; and
  • Noranda Alumina LLC‘s non-coal Gramercy Facility in St. James County, La.

Notable is that these kinds of findings are accusations and are routinely appealed by mine operators to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.

In addition, two nonproducing mines have received warning letters that they will be subject to PPOV procedures once they return to active status. They are D & C Mining Corp.‘s D & C operation in Harlan County, Ky., and Hecla Mining Co.’s Lucky Friday non-coal mine in Shoshone County, Idaho. Fourteen other mines are under PPOV consideration while MSHA is verifying injury information self-reported by the operators to ensure accuracy.

MSHA said it implemented improved screening criteria in 2010 to better identify mines that have been subject to closure orders, including for serious issues such as failing to correct violations cited by MSHA, unwarrantable failures to comply with health or safety standards, failure to provide miners with required training and imminent dangers in the mine. As a result of the first screening under the improved criteria conducted in October 2010, MSHA issued 17 PPOV notices and one postponement letter to Massey Energy‘s Upper Big Branch mine, site of an April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners. As a result of an October 2011 screening, MSHA issued eight PPOV notices and three postponement letters at mines that were in nonproducing status, inactive or abandoned.

“The revised potential pattern of violations program, along with other enforcement actions such as impact inspections, is making mines safer,” said MSHA head Joseph Main. “The number of chronic violators meeting improved screening criteria has substantially dropped since we began implementing these criteria in 2010.”

Following the October 2010 screening, MSHA issued PPOV notices at four additional mines after audits of 39 operations revealed inaccurately reported injury data. During the October 2011 screening, MSHA found that 28 additional mines were subject to agency injury audits, with none receiving PPOV notices. The number of mines meeting the criteria to trigger an audit has fallen substantially, as well.

In April 2011, Bledsoe Coal Corp.’s Abner Branch Rider mine in Leslie County, Ky., and The New West Virginia Mining Co.’s Apache mine in McDowell County, W.Va., became the first mines in the history of the Mine Act to be subject to the full effect of POV enforcement action and thus subject to 104(e) closure orders.

  • MSHA data shows Bledsoe Coal as a unit of James River Coal (NASDAQ: JRCC) and that the Abner Branch Rider mine is currently active, with production of 180,954 tons in the first nine months of this year and 292,823 tons in all of 2011.
  • MSHA data shows that The New West Virginia Mining is controlled by Brandy Horvath and that the Apache mine is abandoned, with last production in the third quarter of 2010.
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.