Tag Archives: coal mine tragedy

Conspiracy Charges for Superintendent of Upper Big Branch

Federal prosecutors have filed charges against Gary May, the former superintendent of Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. More details at NPR.

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Natural Disasters, Unnatural People?

A few stories regarding the coal industry have caught my eye and, despite my being a few weeks late to the party, I think each deserves more attention:

Investigators apparently have evidence that Massey Energy kept fake safety records for Upper Big Branch prior to the explosion that killed 29 miners in 2010. This comes from the Mine Safety and Health Administration who showed the records to families of the killed miners. Regarding the explosion, the MSHA findings point towards a small methane explosion caused by a spark from a cutting head. That explosion grew exponentially thanks to the unsafe build up of coal dust in the mine. This, of course, goes against Massey’s claim that the explosion was a natural disaster rather than something preventable through safety measures.

It stands to reason that Massey would make this claim. It is, after all, in their interest. Natural disasters through the very label become something unpreventable. They are a fact of life and the loss of life through them in turn becomes inevitable. Certainly this isn’t a new idea and I’m not the first to point out this tactic. Nevertheless, it’s important to state exactly what this rhetoric does in regards to the safety of miners and to the responsibility of Massey and the coal industry as a whole. It is, frankly, the largest cop out possible. Nothing about coal mining is “natural.” You’re digging tunnels deep into mountains to retrieve minerals to burn to produce energy. It is a thoroughly industrialized process and an intervention (for better or worse – though obviously I lean towards worse) of human beings into incredibly dangerous territory. To say that the dangers are natural then suggests that they are unpreventable, exactly what the MSHA’s findings refute.

There’s another side of this tactic and it’s one that the mining industry (or in this case a law firm representing it) has deployed recently as well. (As first reported here and picked up by Mother Jones here) In response to a recent study showing the increased chance of birth defects among populations living near mountaintop removal operations the law firm of Crowell & Moring has stated that the study did not take into account consanguinity. If you’re like me and aren’t familiar with the term consanguinity the Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr.  has done us the favor of finding out: Consanguinity refers to the level of shared ancestry. In other words, the level of inbreeding.

Ward’s post about this has a excellent explanation of Crowell & Moring’s use of the term and it’s well worth a read in its entirety. Once again I want to focus on the rhetoric. There’s a clear insinuation pulling on an old and much refuted stereotype that the residents of the Appalachian coal fields are inbreeding. Hence they become “unnatural” in their behavior and the cause for their own problems. As such, if we accept this line of reasoning, the people suffering birth defects in this region are to be the subject of our collective scorn rather than MTR. This tactic pulls on an old and much refuted stereotype in an underhanded effort to refute a study pointing towards the detrimental effects of the coal industry on the region and its inhabitants.

Again, not a new tactic. Still, it’s imperative to point out these tactics whenever they crop up. The rhetoric is simply too powerful to let slip by unchallenged. They must be called out as the insidious and deceitful tactics that they are.

Indictment in Upper Big Branch Disaster Investigation

Hughie Elbert Stover has been arrested and charged for obstructing the investigation of the 2010 disaster at Upper Big Branch.

The whole story: AP News report via Huffington Post.

MSHA Splits District Including Upper Big Branch

NPR reports on the upcoming split of the Mine Safety and Health Administration district that includes the Upper Big Branch Mine that was the site of an explosion that killed 29 miners in 2010. The split will come as a means to help safety enforcement by decreasing the relative size being administered. The split will happen later this year, but NPR raises some important questions about the delay of this action until 2011.

The Dangers of Mining

The deaths of at least 20 miners in Colombia today is a stark reminder of the inherent dangers of coal mining. More from the BBC.

While on the subject, the BBC is also reporting on the inquest findings on the Pike River mining disaster in New Zealand.

Upper Big Branch Mine Blast News Coverage 4/9

News Coverage for Upper Big Branch Mine Blast 4/8

I’m continuing to collect news and internet coverage of the Upper Big Branch Mine Blast.

New York Times coverage for the morning of 4/8.

The New York Times takes a look at the complicated background and local loyalties surrounding Massey Energy Co. and its CEO Don Blankenship.

CNN gives some background into one of the blast’s victims, Joshua Napper.

25 dead and 4 missing after coal mine explosion in Montcoal West Virginia

I will be keeping a running log of news stories related to this tragedy in this post and following it up with subsequent posts examining the tragedy and the press and national reaction to it.  Right now though our obvious thoughts should be for the missing miners and all of the families struggling through this.

New York Times

Associated Press

BBC

CNN

President Obama speaks about the tragedy via CNN

West Virginia Gov. Manchin interview via CNN

Massy Energy Co. Safety Violations via the AP and Huffington Post (This is also an update of the previous AP news story link.)

ABC News reports on Massey Energy Co. Safety Violations and the questionable relationship between Massey CEO Don Blankenship and West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin. Video of confrontation between ABC reporters and Blankenship included.

Video of press conferences about tragedy via New York Times.

A brief bio of one of the victims of the explosion via New York Times.

CNN reports on Massey Energy Co.’s safety record.

Not news, but Boing Boing has a q&a with Christopher Bise, chair of West Virginia University’s Mining Engineering department, about methane in mines.  The comments are intriguing thanks to their range and for the dialogue it raises between those who are local to mining regions and aware of its history and those who believe the positivist story of American mining history.