Patriot defends itself against MSHA pattern of violations finding

The U.S. Mine, Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) on Oct. 24 notified Patriot Coal (OTC: PCXCQ) that a Pattern of Violations (POV) exists at the Brody No. 1 mine, located in Boone County, W.Va.

That finding targets a company for a higher level of penalties, based on the idea that a continued series of safety violations are no mere accident. The POV system is rarely invoked.

Patriot acquired Brody Mining LLC at the end of 2012. Prior to that time, Brody was owned and operated by an independent company. Many of the violations and the severity measure cited in the POV finding took place under the prior owner, Patriot said in an Oct. 24 statement.

Immediately following Patriot’s purchase of Brody, on Jan. 3, the company submitted a Compliance Improvement Plan to MSHA. Since that time, the Brody mine compliance performance (as measured by violations per inspector day) has improved by 40%. Also, all former officers and key mine-level managers at Brody were replaced shortly after the purchase was concluded. More recently, on Sept. 6, Patriot submitted a Corrective Action Plan to MSHA to further improve safety and compliance at the Brody mine. On Sept. 17, MSHA approved the submitted Corrective Action Plan.

During the period of time it has operated as a Patriot subsidiary, the company said that the Brody mine has made considerable and measurable progress toward improved safety and compliance. Patriot firmly believes that the Brody mine does not qualify for POV status, and the company intends to vigorously contest the POV finding.

Patriot Coal, in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection since July 2012, is a producer and marketer of coal in the eastern U.S, with 11 active mining complexes in Appalachia and the Illinois Basin. It has lately worked out a series of financial and labor agreements that are expected to get it out of bankruptcy as an intact operation.

Agency singles out a total of three operations for pattern notices

MSHA said Oct 24 that three mining operations have been put on notice of a pattern of violations. The POV screening is the first one conducted since MSHA’s revised pattern rule went into effect on March 25. These revisions improve MSHA’s ability to act when it finds a pattern of violations.

The three mines that received POV notices are: Tram Energy LLC’s Mine No. 1 in Floyd County, Ky.; Brody Mining’s Brody Mine No. 1 in Boone County, W.Va.; and Pocahontas Coal Co. LLC’s Affinity Mine in Raleigh County, W.Va.

MSHA’s review for POV covered all 14,600 of the nation’s mines. The agency said it is still reviewing the injury records of several mines to determine if they should be considered for a POV notice based on this screening.

A POV notice, one of the agency’s toughest enforcement actions, is reserved for the mines that pose the greatest risk to the safety of miners. After no mine was placed on POV for the first 33 years after the federal Mine Act went into effect, these POV notices mark the third year in a row that MSHA has used this critical tool to protect miners from serious hazards. This tougher enforcement came into play after the April 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia, which killed 29 miners.

“MSHA’s new POV rule, which we will vigorously enforce, enhances protections for miners and shifts the responsibility for monitoring compliance and taking action to prevent POV enforcement actions to the operator,” said agency head Joseph Main.

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.