WSAZ | Charleston, West Virginia | News

NEW INFO: Accidents, Injuries Down at Alpha Mines

By: WSAZ News Staff, The Associated Press Email
By: WSAZ News Staff, The Associated Press Email

UPDATE 6/18/12 @ 5:45 p.m.
KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) – Major improvements to safety in West Virginia mines owned by Alpha Natural Resources. That’s according to a report released, Monday, under an agreement with the United State’s Attorney’s Office.

Alpha reported accidents are down by nearly a third at former Massey mines, which Alpha now owns, and injuries are down by 25 percent.

The United States Attorney’s Office had three goals under this agreement and said Alpha has made substantial progress on each and every one. While more work needs to be done, what’s been accomplished is encouraging.

It’s good progress, according to Booth Goodwin, United States Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia.

"What we were after here is to mine coal more safely,” Goodwin said. “That is what we were after here and that is clearly what is being done."

In an agreement following the tragedy at the Upper Big Branch Mine, Alpha agreed to pay millions to improve mine safety after taking over operations for Massey Energy.

"I had three main goals and we've seen substantial progress on those goals, that is to address the systemic problems that were evident at legacy Massey operations,” Goodwin said. “We wanted to advance the state of the art in mine safety and health research."

One of the ways Alpha is looking to improve safety is with its new $18 million training facility currently under construction in Julian. It’s a facility Alpha officials said will allow miners to train in realistic mine conditions, better preparing them for the real thing.

"What the Running Right Leadership Academy will do is take learning to a new level,” said Cheryl Stapleton, director of the Running Right Leadership Academy. “Better preparing the employees before going underground, just what to expect if they're a new hire. If they're an existing employee, what we'll do is build up on their base of knowledge that they have, help them take it to another level through simulated experiences."

It's all in an effort to keep miners safe on the job.

Goodwin said other positive things to come out of the agreement are the oxygen cascading systems, mine explosiveness meters and wireless methane detection monitors inside mines to improve safety measures.

The new training facility, currently under construction, should be done by June 2013.

Goodwin hopes this agreement lays the groundwork for improved safety industry-wide.



UPDATE 6/18/12 @ 8:30 a.m.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WSAZ & AP) -- Federal prosecutors say Alpha Natural Resources has slashed its accident and injury rates in the six months since a landmark settlement spared the company criminal charges in West Virginia's Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

According to a news release, Alpha reported accidents are down by nearly one-third at former Massey mines now owned by Alpha, and injuries are down by nearly 25 percent.

The company has also started construction of an $18 million training center that U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin says will dramatically benefit the industry.

When it opens next June, miners will be able to train for dangerous conditions in a 96,000-square-foot simulation lab.

Goodwin says Virginia-based Alpha has room to improve. But he says it's making "substantial progress" as it overhauls the Massey Energy mines it acquired last summer and fixes a corporate culture that devalued safety.

“The progress Alpha reported is a very positive beginning to our agreement,” said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. “The company has made great strides in addressing the systemic problems it inherited after the merger.

Alpha has established a mine safety and health research foundation that will devote $48 million to research and development projects under the leadership of three nationally recognized experts, according to the release.

“The health and safety research foundation and the innovations in safety equipment under our agreement have the potential to create major improvements in mine safety, not just at Alpha but across the country,” Goodwin continued. “And the financial consequences of Massey’s behavior are a powerful reminder that cutting corners on safety is bad for business.

“There is still work to be done, as Alpha has acknowledged,” Goodwin said. “But a lot’s been accomplished over the past six months, and I look forward to another good report in December.”

The 2010 explosion in southern West Virginia killed 29 men and was the worst U.S. mining disaster in 40 years.



UPDATE 2/28/12 @ 9:45 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP & WSAZ) -- West Virginia's House of Delegates has unanimously approved legislation meant to prevent a repeat of the deadly Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin proposed the bill that advanced Tuesday to the Senate. It includes provisions targeting methane gas and coal dust levels. Both fueled the Upper Big Branch explosion that killed 29 miners.

The measure also makes it a felony to cause a death by violating a safety standard. Another new crime would be announcing when inspectors enter a mine site.

Some provisions are unrelated to the 2010 Raleigh County disaster. Those include random drug testing for anyone in a safety-sensitive position in a mine.

House Speaker Rick Thompson left his rostrum to urge passage Tuesday. Thompson's father died in a mining accident before he was born.

"I don't want it to be the end. I want to make sure we can continue looking at ways we can improve enforcement," Thompson says.

Alice Peters lost her son-in-law, Dean Jones, in the blast. She says she's known for a long time something needs to change, and she hopes Tuesday's action will yield results.

But, she says existing laws should have been enforced to prevent what happened at Upper Big Branch. She also wonders why it's taken two years for lawmakers to respond with a bill.

She says, "When they started wanting to pass that bill, that's what we were thinking of. Why did they wait that long to do that?"

Peters says she's also concerned about existing laws being enforced at mines. Investigations into the blast have shown that didn't happen at times at Upper Big Branch.

During Tuesday's floor session, House Majority Whip and UMWA international vice president Del. Mike Caputo (D-Marion) spoke about the bill.

"No, I'm not happy. Because as I went through that list, we're doing a bill because people died. That's the only time we pass meaningful legislation in this industry," Caputo said.

He was part of closed-door negotiations last week after mine industry representatives raised concerns about several provisions of the bill. Those concerns included allowing family members to pick anyone they want, including UMWA officials, to represent them during death investigations.

"It's a pretty strong piece of legislation that encompasses a lot of areas. It sets forth new performance standards for mine operations," says West Virginia Coal Association senior vice president Chris Hamilton.



UPDATE 2/23/12 @ 10:45 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Lawmakers and interest groups met behind closed doors again Thursday in an effort to sort through issues related to the mine safety bill proposed in response to the Upper Big Branch disaster.

The bill made it to the House floor Tuesday but was pulled later in the day after industry groups raised concerns about some of its provisions.

Thursday’s meetings came as the state’s Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training released its final report into the causes of the April 2010 blast, which killed 29 miners.

"I don't want to see another family go through what these 29 families here have (gone) through," says Clay Mullins, who lost his brother, Rex, in the explosion.

Del. Mike Caputo (D-Marion), who is also with the United Mine Workers of America, is one of the people involved in the negotiations over the bill.

"I want to be clear, it looks like we may be making some tremendous progress in those (issues)," says Caputo.

He pointed to three key components being debated:

  • The bill calls on higher-ranking managers, such as mine superintendents or owners/operators to sign off on safety reports. But, industry groups point out those people may not be at a mine everyday.

    "My main concern is they cannot say they didn't look at that book," says Caputo.

  • It also lets a victim's family member pick someone to represent them during a death investigation. The industry worried that would mean union representatives at non-union mines.

  • There's also discussion about when methane levels should trigger equipment being shutdown.

    "We're not going to pass a bill that does nothing. If the bill will not protect the health and safety of the miners, then we're not going to pass it," says Caputo.

    The House has until Wednesday to pass bills over to the Senate. Caputo says since the bill was read the first time Tuesday, negotiations would need to be wrapped up by next Tuesday, so that it can be read a second time and potentially passed by Wednesday’s deadline.

    "I hope there's some changes in the law, I hope there's changes to the way…the state conduct their investigations," says Mullins.

    Even if the bill passes, there are still things it doesn't do which Mullins would like to see change, including giving more power to state investigators to shut down dangerous mines.



    UPDATE 2/23/12 @ 10:50 a.m.
    BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP & WSAZ) -- West Virginia mine safety officials issued 253 violations in their investigation of the Upper Big Branch disaster and targeted two foremen, saying their failures may have exacerbated the explosion that killed 29 men.

    The violations are included in a report released Thursday by the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training. Officials planned an afternoon news conference to discuss the fourth and final report on the nation's worst coal mining disaster in four decades at Massey Energy's mine near Montcoal.

    The report comes the day after federal prosecutors charged the mine's former superintendent with fraud and signaled they are going after other Massey employees, likely higher up the management ladder.

    “Our team of investigators spent countless hours to make sure this report gives a clear picture into what went wrong at Upper Big Branch,” said OMHS&T Director C.A. Phillips. “It’s our goal to prevent an incident like this from ever happening again.”

    The state's conclusions about the cause of the explosion largely mirror those of previous reports: The machine cutting through sandstone to reach the coal created the heat or spark that methane needed to ignite. Broken water sprayers then failed to stop the fireball from turning into a much more powerful series of explosions fueled by coal dust.

    The state's report said foremen Ricky J. Foster and Terry W. Moore repeatedly failed to clean conveyor belts and apply rock dust to certain areas in the mine from December 2009 until the explosion on April 5, 2010. Mine operators use pulverized limestone to cover and neutralize highly explosive coal dust.

    One of the "most disturbing facts" investigators said they learned about rock-dusting practices at Upper Big Branch was the failure to treat one side of the longwall mining machine during the eight months it operated. Some 5,400 feet of the 6,700-foot-long coal panel was mined between September 2009 and April 2010 "without any record of rock dust being applied," the report said.

    Both foremen signed safety inspection logs to indicate they were aware of coal dust accumulation and the need for rock dusting, the report said, but there is no record suggesting either fixed the problems. The log books also had "lack of clarity and full disclosure" about the extent of the hazards underground.

    "Extreme brevity of information was used on a daily basis," when more detail could have helped workers on subsequent shifts protect themselves, the report said.

    State law proposes only $250 fines for individual violations, but the agency could seek suspension or revocation of the foremen's licenses and certifications.

    "Individuals involved in the day-to-day decision making at the mine must be held accountable regardless of their title," the report said. "The mine foreman is the highest-ranking official that current state law addresses."

    Neither Foster nor Moore cooperated with investigations by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration and the United Mine Workers. They are listed among 18 Massey executives and mine managers who invoked their right to avoid self-incrimination and refused to testify.

    The superintendent charged Wednesday did the same.

    Gary May, 43, was charged with conspiracy to defraud the federal government, accused of disabling a methane monitor on a mining machine and falsifying safety records. Prosecutors said May also manipulated the mine's ventilation system during inspections to fool safety officials about air flow.

    He could get up to five years in prison if convicted.

    May is the highest-ranking company official charged so far.

    The other, former security chief Hughie Elbert Stover, will be sentenced next week for lying to investigators and trying to destroy documents. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin is urging a federal judge to make an example of Stover by giving him the maximum - 25 years in prison.

    The charges against May were contained in a federal information, a document that typically signals a defendant's cooperation with prosecutors. May has declined comment.

    The state's report said methane, which occurs naturally in underground mines, was coming from several sources, including cracks in the floor.

    Massey, bought out last summer by Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources, has long argued that a sudden inundation from a crack overwhelmed all safety systems.

    The state acknowledged the crack was likely "a major source of gas" and noted it was linked to three previous methane releases and ignitions. But like MSHA, it rejected Massey's theory, saying the gas is easily moved by air currents, and air flow at the main production area was about 700 feet per minute before the blast.

    The report said the gas apparently collected behind roof-supporting shields on the longwall machine, and a nearby roof fall obstructed the air flow, allowing that accumulation to go undetected.

    Family members told WSAZ.com that there was very little new information released in the report and they still felt this tragedy could have been avoided.

    The report released Thursday was several hundred pages long.

    Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information. To read the full report click on the link below.

    Statement from Governor Earl Ray Tomblin
    "Much like the other reports on the tragic explosion at the UBB mine -- one common theme prevails; this disaster was preventable.

    I am committed to making sure that our laws are properly enforced and that we pass meaningful mine safety legislation. We simply cannot bear another mine disaster in West Virginia," Gov. Tomblin said.

    "I am working with the Legislature to make sure that my legislation, currently pending in the House of Delegates, passes so that we can work to prevent another mine disaster from occurring.

    I am confident that the Legislature will soon pass House Bill 4351 so that I can sign it and we can immediately begin its implementation."



    UPDATE 2/23/12 @ 10:35 a.m.
    BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia officials have issued 253 violations in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, targeting two foremen whose failures may have contributed to the conditions that killed 29 men in 2010.

    The violations are included in an Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training report released Thursday.

    It's the fourth and final report on the tragedy at the former Massey Energy mine. It comes the day after federal prosecutors charged the former superintendent with fraud and signaled they are going after other managers.

    The state says foremen Ricky Foster and Terry Moore repeatedly failed to clean conveyor belts and apply rock dust from December 2009 until the explosion.

    Pulverized limestone neutralizes highly explosive coal dust, which investigators have said contributed to the blast.

    Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



    UPDATE 2/23/12 @ 9:05 a.m.
    CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ & AP) -- West Virginia mine safety officials are preparing to release the final report on a 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners just as federal prosecutors turn up the heat on managers they say contributed to the tragedy.

    Families of those killed will gather in Beckley Thursday to receive the fourth report on the Upper Big Branch mine blast -- this one from the state Office of Miners Health Safety and Training.

    The report will be released to the victims' families at 10 a.m. Then, a news conference is set for 1:30 p.m. to release the report to the public.

    The release comes a day after federal prosecutors charged the mine's former superintendent with fraud and signaled they are going after other former Massey Energy employees.

    Previous reports conducted by state, federal and union officials all concluded that Virginia-based Massey let explosive methane and coal dust build up in the mine, and that worn and broken cutting equipment ignited the gas.



    UPDATE 2/15/12 @ 6:55 p.m.
    CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Federal prosecutors want the only conviction related to the Upper Big Branch mine explosion to send a strong message after 29 miners died.

    Hughie Stover will soon learn his fate for lying to investigators and trying to destroy evidence.

    Prosecutors say the former security chief played a key role in causing the explosion, mainly because of what they say was the systematic practice of providing advanced warning of inspections at UBB.

    U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said in a document filed this week that Stover was well aware that practice was happening at UBB.

    Goodwin asked the judge to give Stover the maximum sentence, saying Stover acted to sabotage the federal investigation into the explosion.

    A jury convicted Stover of making false statements and obstructing justice.

    Goodwin says the judge could send a message that the federal government cares about mine safety crimes. He says a tough sentence would curb future bad conduct at mines.

    "A sentence that does not at least approach the maximum would not reflect the seriousness of the offense, provide just punishment or promote respect for the law," Goodwin said. "Indeed, even the 25-year maximum sentence would represent only 10 and a half months for each death involved."

    However, the defense argues Stover deserves no jail time. Stover's attorney wants probation or home confinement.

    The defense argues that the actions Stover was convicted of are unrelated to the cause of the explosion.

    "Elbert's statements were not false, and he neither concealed nor destroyed any documents to impede the government's investigation of the UBB tragedy," attorney Bill Wilmoth said.

    Federal prosecutors claim in their report Stover was warned twice before the UBB explosion that he was breaking the law.

    To read the full report, click on the links near the video box on this page.

    Stover will be sentenced Feb. 29.



    UPDATE 2/15/12 @ 11:20 a.m.
    CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Prosecutors want to make an example of a former security chief at the Upper Big Branch mine who was convicted of lying to investigators after the worst mine disaster in four decades.

    U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin says Hughie Elbert Stover deserves the maximum possible sentence of 25 years in prison. Goodwin says Stover's actions contributed to the April 2010 disaster that killed 29 men.

    In a sentencing recommendation, Goodwin says U.S. District Judge Irene Berger could send a message that the federal government cares about mine safety crimes.

    He says a tough sentence would deter bad conduct for an industry that's closely watching the outcome.

    But defense attorney Bill Wilmoth says the 60-year-old Stover deserves no jail time. He wants probation or home confinement.

    Stover will be sentenced on February 29.



    UPDATE 2/10/12 @ 4:05 p.m.
    CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia mining officials will release the fourth and final report on the Upper Big Branch mine disaster Feb. 23.

    Leslie Fitzwater of the Office of Miners Health Safety and Training says it will be presented to the victims' families at the Raleigh County Convention Center in Beckley before it's released publicly.

    The 2010 explosion at the former Massey Energy mine in southern West Virginia killed 29 men in the worst U.S. mine disaster in four decades.

    Reports already have been issued by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the United Mine Workers of America and an independent panel appointed by the former governor.

    All concluded Virginia-based Massey let methane and coal dust build up in the mine. Worn and broken cutting equipment created the spark it needed to explode.



    UPDATE 12/19/11 @ 9:50 a.m.
    CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- The Mine Safety and Health Administration orally advised Massey Energy how to deal with methane leaks at West Virginia's Upper Big Branch mine.

    But MSHA director Joe Main says he doesn't know if those recommendations were put into written reports for the operator of the mine where 29 men died in a 2010 explosion.

    Methane and coal dust fueled the blast, which was sparked by cutting equipment.

    Massey and Upper Big Branch are now owned by Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources.

    The Associated Press says the possible lack of communication was revealed in correspondence between Main and a congressman.

    MSHA had suggested steps Massey could take to stop methane leaks from the floor after investigations of previous leaks and ignitions. But the agency has said that Massey never followed up.



    UPDATE 12/16/11 @ 2:15 p.m.
    MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall and other members of the House Education and Workforce Committee are demanding the Justice Department pursue criminal prosecutions in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

    In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday, the committee urged a vigorous investigation that goes as far as possible up the Massey Energy chain of command.

    Massey was bought by Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources in June. Alpha recently reached a $210 million settlement that spares the corporation criminal prosecution, but does allow prosecution of individuals.

    Twenty-nine men died when the mine near Montcoal exploded last year. Several investigations have declared the accident preventable but said Massey ignored basic safety measures.

    The committee says individuals established the deadly practices at the mine, and individuals should be held accountable.



    UPDATE 12/12/11 @ 4 p.m.
    CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- The $210 million settlement with Alpha Natural Resources over the deadly explosion at West Virginia's Upper Big Branch mine does something regulators first recommended more than 20 years ago.

    Under the deal, Virginia-based Alpha will install optical meters at 104 underground coal mines, including those it bought from Massey Energy.

    The Associated Press says the former U.S. Bureau of Mines recommended the device to determine instantly if mines are dusted with enough pulverized limestone to prevent coal dust explosions.

    But the Mine Safety and Health Administration has never tried to mandate their use, and the National Mining Association won't say whether other companies will follow Alpha's lead.

    U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin says people have long believed disasters are an inherent risk of mining, but he calls that a myth.



    UPDATE 12/6/11 @ 7:35 p.m.
    CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- It has been 20 months since the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion that killed 29 men. Now there’s a breakthrough surrounding the investigation.

    Alpha Natural Resources, the new owner of UBB, has agreed to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in connection with the criminal investigation.

    Alpha is paying the price, but certainly is not taking the blame. That's because it didn't own the mine when the explosion happened; Massey Energy did. Alpha took over operations in June.

    There are certain people still under investigation, but in the meantime, Alpha is focusing on making sure a tragedy like this never happens again.

    “There should never be another UBB, and this announcement is aimed squarely at that goal,” U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Tuesday during a news conference.

    As part of the criminal investigation, Alpha has agreed to pay a settlement of more than $209 million.

    “It is a small price to pay to make sure that our miners get home safe every day,” Goodwin said.

    The majority of the money will go toward safety.

    Eighty million dollars will purchase new systems and provide the manpower to monitor and prevent explosive methane gas and coal dust, which fueled the explosion. Meanwhile, $48 million will fund research to advance that safety.

    Also, $34.8 million will pay all penalties owed to MSHA, including those from the UBB investigation.

    “It doesn't just punish criminal conduct,” Goodwin said. “It does so in a way that will deliver enormous direct impacts to health and safety of miners.”

    And don't forget those still coping with their loss. Each family of the 29 men killed and two injured will receive $1.5 million, coming to a total of $46.5 million.

    However, this payment doesn't mean case closed.

    “Our investigation has revealed criminal conduct,” Goodwin said.

    There's no comment on who or how many are still under investigation.

    Since Alpha didn't own the mine when the blast happened it is in the clear, but is still paying a hefty price to keep history from repeating itself.

    Part of the new equipment Alpha plans to install in underground mines includes an oxygen cascading system that would help miners to safety if another explosion happened.

    It will also fund a training facility that all miners will be able to use.



    UPDATE 12/6/11 @ 2:30 p.m.
    BECKLEY, W.Va. (WSAZ) – A final report by the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration says Massey's corporate culture was the root cause of the Upper Big Branch mine tragedy that killed 29 miners in April 2010.

    Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, Solicitor of Labor M. Patricia Smith, MSHA Assistant Secretary Joseph A. Main and MSHA Administrator for Coal Kevin Stricklin met with families Tuesday to share the agency's findings

    "The tragic explosion at Upper Big Branch left dozens of families without husbands, fathers, brothers and sons," said Secretary Solis. "I made a pledge to the families of those we lost, and the entire mining community, to conduct the most complete and thorough investigation possible in order to find the cause of this disaster. The results of the investigation lead to the conclusion that PCC/Massey promoted and enforced a workplace culture that valued production over safety, and broke the law as they endangered the lives of their miners. By issuing the largest fine in MSHA's history, I hope to send a strong message that the safety of miners must come first."

    The agency's presentation of findings follows a non-prosecution agreement reached Tuesday among the U.S. Attorney's Office, the U.S. Department of Justice, Alpha Natural Resources Inc. and Alpha Appalachia Holdings Inc., formerly known as Massey Energy Co.

    The agreement, which includes nearly $210 million for remedial safety measures at all Alpha mines, a trust fund for improvements in mine safety and health, payment of outstanding civil penalties for all former Massey mines and restitution payments for the victims' families, resolves criminal liability for Alpha but does not provide protection against criminal prosecution of any individuals.

    "This agreement can go a long way toward changing a safety culture that was clearly broken at Massey's mines," said Secretary Solis. "Although this agreement is significant, it in no way absolves any individuals responsible for this terrible tragedy of their criminal liability. We will continue to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney's Office to ensure that the responsible parties will be brought to justice."

    MSHA concluded that the 29 miners died in a massive coal dust explosion that started as a methane ignition. While the investigation found the physical conditions that led to the coal dust explosion were the result of a series of basic safety violations at UBB, which PCC and Massey disregarded, the report cites unlawful policies and practices implemented by PCC and Massey as the root cause of the explosion – including the intimidation of miners, advance notice of inspections, and two sets of books with hazards recorded in UBB's internal production and maintenance book but not in the official examination book. The investigation found that the operator promoted and enforced a workplace culture that valued production over safety, including practices calculated to allow it to conduct mining operations in violation of the law.

    "Every time Massey sent miners into the UBB Mine, Massey put those miners' lives at risk. Massey management created a culture of fear and intimidation in their miners to hide their reckless practices. Today's report brings to light the tragic consequences of a corporate culture that values production over people," said Main.

    "The secretary and I are committed to improving the health and safety of America's miners. To honor the memory of the lives lost at UBB, we will use the lessons learned from this terrible tragedy to fulfill that commitment."

    MSHA issued PCC and Massey 12 citations and orders deemed contributory to the cause of the accident, and nine of those violations were assessed as flagrant, which carry the highest possible penalties. Violations include illegally providing advance notice to miners of MSHA inspections; failing to properly conduct required examinations; allowing hazardous levels of loose coal, coal dust and float coal dust to accumulate; failing to adequately apply rock dust to the mine; failing to adequately train miners; and failing to comply with approved ventilation plans and approved roof control plans.

    MSHA also issued 357 citations and orders to PCC and Massey that did not contribute directly to the explosion, including 11 assessed as flagrant. Additionally, MSHA issued two contributory and two non-contributory violations to David Stanley Consulting LLC — a contractor that supplied examiners and other miners to work at UBB — for its examiner's failure to properly conduct examinations. These violations carry penalties of $142,684.



    UPDATE 12/6/11 @ 1:03 p.m.
    CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A settlement was announced Tuesday by Alpha Natural Resources for payments and safety investments following the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion that killed 29 workers in April 2010.

    U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin II, along with the FBI and Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General announced the $209 million settlement.

    According to a press release, the agreement is the largest ever resolution in a criminal investigation of a mine disaster.

    At the time of the explosion, Massey Energy Company owned the mine. In June 2011, Alpha took control of the mine in a merger.

    In the agreement, Alpha will invest at least $80 million in mine safety enhancements at all of it's underground mines, including those formerly owned by Massey.

    Alpha will also place $48 million in a mine health and safety research trust to be used to fund academic and non-profit research that will advance the state of the art in mine safety.

    In addition, the company will make restitution of a total of $46.5 million ($1.5 million each) to the families of the 29 miners who were lost at UBB and to the two individuals who were injured.

    And Alpha will pay in full all penalties owed to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), including all penalties that arise from the UBB accident investigation, for a total of up to $34.8 million.

    Some of the safety measures included in the agreement include the following:
    -Installing digital monitoring systems to continuously monitor compliance with ventilation requirements and make sure mines are free of potentially explosive methane gas
    -Implementing a plan to ensure that each of its underground mines has the personnel and resources necessary to meet all legal requirements concerning incombustible material and accumulations of coal dust and loose coal
    -Purchasing state-of-the-art equipment to monitor its mines for explosive concentrations of coal dust and use that equipment in all its underground mines
    -Purchasing next-generation rock dusting equipment (pending MSHA approval), further enhancing its ability to combat explosion hazards
    -Installing cutting-edge oxygen cascading systems to help miners make their way to safety if a serious accident should occur in an Alpha mine
    -Building a state-of-the-art training facility and implement a full training curriculum. The facility will be used to train Alpha miners and also will be available to other mining companies

    "It addresses only the corporate criminal liability of the former Massey, not potential criminal charges for any individual. The criminal investigation of individuals associated with Massey remains ongoing. Alpha has cooperated with the federal criminal investigation since the merger, in addition to implementing a number of safety improvements," Goodwin said

    "While we continue to investigate individuals associated with this tragedy, this historic agreement - one of the largest payments ever for workplace safety crimes of any type - will help to create safer work environments for miners in West Virginia and across the country," Attorney General Eric Holder said.

    "Collectively, these requirements will set a new standard for what can and should be done to protect miners," Goodwin said.



    UPDATE 12/6/11 @ 11:30 a.m.
    CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- The owner of a West Virginia coal mine where an explosion killed 29 men will pay nearly $210 million in a historic settlement arising from the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in decades.

    U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin announced the settlement Tuesday, calling it a "revolutionary resolution" that is the largest of a criminal investigation into a U.S. mine disaster.

    As part of the agreement, Alpha Natural Resources will not be charged with crimes but individuals still could face criminal prosecution. Alpha acquired Massey Energy after the explosion at Upper Big Branch.

    The agreement includes more than $46 million in criminal restitution to the miners' families and $35 million in penalties for all Massey violations, including $11 million for Upper Big Branch. Another $128 million will fund cutting-edge mine safety upgrades.

    Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



    UPDATE 12/6/11 @ 10:30 a.m.
    CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- The owner of a West Virginia coal mine where an explosion killed 29 men will pay nearly $210 million in a historic settlement arising from the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in decades.

    An attorney with knowledge of the Upper Big Branch settlement provided details Tuesday to The Associated Press. The agreement includes more than $46 million in criminal restitution to the miners' families. It also allows for individual criminal prosecutions.

    The person was not authorized to talk about the details before an official announcement and asked for anonymity.

    Massey Energy owned the mine at the time of the April 2010 disaster. Alpha Natural Resources has since acquired Massey. The settlement includes $35 million in penalties for all Massey mine violations, including $11 million for Upper Big Branch.



    UPDATE 12/5/11 @ 10:30 p.m.
    CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- New details are expected to be released Tuesday in connection with a federal investigation into the Upper Big Branch Mine coal mine disaster.

    U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin says a news conference has been scheduled Tuesday morning at the federal courthouse in Charleston.

    Goodwin tells WSAZ.com out of respect for the families of the 29 miners who died in the April 2010 explosion, he could not discuss the subject matter of the conference until he has spoken with them.

    This comes as The Mine Safety and Health Administration will brief the victims' families on their final investigation report Tuesday in Beaver, W.Va.

    Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



    UPDATE 11/29/11 @ 11:15 p.m.
    MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- Federal investigators will soon release their final report on the 2010 explosion that killed 29 men at West Virginia's Upper Big Branch coal mine.

    The Mine Safety and Health Administration says it will brief the victims' families and the media Dec.6 in Beaver.

    The mine was run by Massey Energy but is now owned by Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources.

    MSHA, the United Mine Workers and an independent panel all agree what caused the blast.

    They say poorly maintained machines cutting into sandstone created a spark. That ignited both a small amount of naturally occurring methane gas and a massive accumulation of explosive coal dust.

    Malfunctioning water sprayers allowed what could have been a small flare-up to become an epic blast.

    MSHA is likely to cite Massey for violations that contributed.



    UPDATE 10/26/11 @ 8:30 p.m.
    BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) -- The only person prosecuted so far in the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in decades was convicted Wednesday of lying to investigators probing the 2010 explosion that killed 29 men at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.

    It took jurors about six hours to find the mine's former security chief, Hughie Elbert Stover, guilty on the lying charge and a second count of seeking to destroy of thousands of security-related documents following the explosion. The jury had begun deliberating Wednesday morning after hearing two days of testimony, in which prosecutors painted Stover as an obstructionist and defense attorneys claimed he was a scapegoat.

    Stover remains free pending a Feb. 29 sentencing hearing. Stover faces an estimated two years in prison on the record-disposal count alone. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said prosecutors will seek as stiff penalty as possible to deter such conduct.

    "While we press forward with this investigation, we will not tolerate obstruction," Goodwin said.

    No one else has been charged in the mine disaster. With both state and federal investigations ongoing, Goodwin said no potential criminal charges for others are off the table.

    "There were serious matters that existed in this mine that didn't just happen overnight or without the involvement of individuals," he said.

    Stover's attorney, William Wilmoth, said it was too early to discuss any future motions or appeals. "While we're disappointed at this result, we're very appreciative of their services," he said of the eight men and four women on the jury.

    The defense had portrayed the former law enforcement officer, a veteran of both the Navy and Marines, as a by-the-book employee who became a victim of the government's zeal to blame someone for the deadly explosion.

    "You wanted justice, and this is who they brought you," Wilmoth said during his closing argument.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Blaire Malkin had earlier reminded jurors of testimony from others at the Raleigh County underground mine. These witnesses alleged that Stover instructed mine guards to send out alerts by radio whenever inspectors entered the property. Such a practice is illegal. One of the criminal charges alleges Stover denied in a November 2010 interview with investigators that there were any advance warnings at the mine.

    "This so-called by-the-book guy had his own playbook and terminology," Malkin said.

    The other count alleges that Stover sought to destroy the documents the following January, by ordering a subordinate to bag and then throw them into an on-site trash compactor. Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Ellis suggested to jurors Wednesday that those records would prove that Stover had lied about inspection tip-offs. The attempted disposal also violated repeated warning from the mine's then-owner, Massey Energy, to keep all records while the disaster remained under investigation. Massey officials told investigators of the trashed documents, which were recovered.

    "There's too much at stake here," Ellis argued, while urging the jury to "send a message that this investigation ought to be allowed to go forward."

    Wilmoth attributed Stover's November statements to confusion over evolving policies at the mine, run by Massey subsidiary Performance Coal Co. As for the document disposal, Stover had called that the "stupidest, worst mistake" of his life when he testified Tuesday in his defense.

    Questioning criminal intent, Wilmoth said Stover could have burned, shredded or otherwise destroyed the records himself, instead of delegating the task of throwing them out to a subordinate during daylight hours and in front of a security camera. Prosecutors said the documents were dumped around 6 a.m., and after being placed in trash bags. Hauling them out in their cardboard storage boxes would have drawn notice, as would Stover performing the deed himself, prosecutors argued.

    In urging jurors to acquit, Wilmoth argued that Stover's actions amounted to innocent mistakes, citing how several witnesses had described him as by-the-book and honest. Rather than targeting mine executives or engineers who may be at fault for the deadly blast, prosecutors have seized on Stover in a game of "government gotcha," Wilmoth told the jury.

    "We're no closer to finding the real villain or villains behind this explosion," said Wilmoth, a former U.S. attorney. "Instead, this is what they brought you."

    Three investigative reports issued so far on the disaster have each concluded that poorly maintained machines cutting into sandstone created a spark that ignited both a small amount of naturally occurring methane gas and a massive accumulation of explosive coal dust. Malfunctioning water sprayers allowed what could have been a small flare-up to become an epic blast that traveled seven miles of underground corridors, doubling back on itself and killing men instantly.

    One of those reports was issued Tuesday by the United Mine Workers union, which criticized government regulators while slamming Massey. Labeling the disaster as "industrial homicide," the findings urge criminal charges against a number of then-executives at Massey. Alpha Natural Resources of Abingdon, Va., acquired the Richmond-based Massey in June through a $7.1 billion takeover deal.



    UPDATE 10/26/11 @ 5:40 p.m.
    BECKLEY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A former Chief of Security at Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County has been found guilty in connection with the deadly UBB mine disaster that killed 29 men.

    Hughie Stover was found guilty of knowingly and willingly making false, fictitious and fraudulent statements and concealing and covering up records with the intent to impede, obstruct or influence an investigation within jurisdiction of MSHA and FBI.

    The verdict came down about 5:40 p.m. Wednesday after six hours of deliberations.

    Sentencing for Stover has been scheduled for February.

    We have a crew on the scene and will bring you the latest on WSAZ and WSAZ.com.



    UPDATE 10/26/11 @ 12:36 p.m.
    BECKLEY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The jury has been deliberating since 11:30 a.m. Wednesday in the case against Hughie Stover, former chief of security at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County.

    Stover is accused of lying to investigators and ordering the destruction of thousands of documents following the explosion at UBB that killed 29 miners in April 2010.

    The jury was called in to the U.S. District Court in Beckley about 10 a.m. Wednesday to get instructions from the judge.

    U.S. District Court Judge Irene Berger stressed to the jury the importance of taking in account all of the evidence in the case. Berger says the jury should proceed with caution when it comes to the witnesses who were granted immunity in exchange for their testimony.

    "You, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, are the sole judges of the facts," Berger said.

    Both the prosecution and defense were granted 30 minutes for closing arguments.

    The prosecutor took about 25 minutes to remind the jury of the evidence brought forth during the trial proving Stover lied to investigators.

    Prosecutors told the jury Stover was asked questions several times about giving advanced notice at the mine when inspectors got on scene and every time Stover answered the same way.

    "The evidence is overwhelmingly that the defendant lied," Prosecutor Blaire Malkin said. "He lied to the MSHA interview team under oath. The defense is using a lot of smoke and mirrors."

    Prosecutors also reminded the jury that no one is disputing Stover's order to dispose of the records even after a hold notice was issued by Massey not to dispose of any records.

    Prosecutors claim Stover knowingly violated that hold notice. That hold notice was issued by the company on April 9, 2010, two days after the explosion at UBB.

    Stover didn't order the documents to be thrown away until January 11, 2011.

    According to prosecutors, Massey Energy sent out a reminder about the hold notice on January 10, just a day before the documents were thrown out. Evidence proves that Stover opened the attachment with the hold notice on January 10 so he was aware that the hold notice was still in effect, according to prosecutors.

    "This so called, by the book guy, used a playbook by his own terminology," Malkin said.

    Defense Attorney Bill Wilmoth started his closing statements by talking about the UBB explosion.

    It has been 570 days since the tragedy and "we're no closer to finding the real villain or villains in what caused the explosion," Wilmoth said.

    Prosecutors objected this part of the arguments, claiming this case had nothing to do with the explosion, but the judge overruled.

    Wilmoth says Massey Energy had a practice of clearing out the garage where the documents were stored on a regular basis. The mine did this to make room for future records.

    "He (Hughie Stover) never lied, he speaks plainly and honestly," Wilmoth said. "I think they (prosecutors) have been watching too many James Bond movies."

    The defense reminded the jury that federal investigators didn't lose any documents, all of them were accounted for.

    Defense Attorney WIlmoth said if Stover had criminal intent he would have never involved someone else or had the documents thrown away during daylight hours, outside of his office where there were security cameras.

    The defense also talked about the advance notice claims. Stover's attorney claimed Massey has been using this policy at its mines since 1999. However, the attorney says it was Stover who ordered the practice of never calling the mine when the inspectors got on scene. Stover only allowed a visitor to be announced on the radio for safety reasons, according to his attorney.

    Stover said he would fire anyone who broke that policy.

    "Someone has to take the heat off MSHA and the officials in government and Elbert (Hughie Stover) is our man," Wilmoth.

    Prosecutors were given a five minute rebuttal once the defense ended its closing arguments.

    During the rebuttal, Prosecutor Malkin simply encouraged the jurors to send a strong message to officials in the wrong.

    Stover is charged with knowingly and willingfully making false, fictitious and fraudulent statements and concealing and covering up records with the intent to impede, obstruct or influence an investigation within jurisdiction of MSHA and FBI.

    If convicted, Stover faces up to 25 years in prison.

    NewsChannel 3's Brooks Jarosz is in the courtroom. Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the very latest information.



    UPDATE 10/26/11 @ 11:40 a.m.
    BECKLEY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The jury is deliberating in the case against of the former chief of security at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County.

    Jury deliberations began just before noon Wednesday. The trial is taking place in U.S. District Court in Beckley.

    Hughie Stover is accused of lying to investigators and ordering the destruction of thousands of documents following the explosion at UBB that killed 29 miners in April 2010.

    Closing arguments wrapped up in the trial at 11:30 a.m. after three days of testimony.

    If convicted, Stover faces up to 25 years in prison.

    NewsChannel 3's Brooks Jarosz is in the courtroom. Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the very latest information.



    UPDATE 10/25/11 @ 8:50 p.m.
    BECKLEY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Closing arguments will begin Wednesday morning in the trial of the former chief of security at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County.

    Hughie Stover is accused of lying to investigators and ordering the destruction of thousands of documents following the explosion at UBB that killed 29 miners in April 2010.

    Prosecutors and defense lawyers both rested their cases after a busy and productive day in the courtroom Tuesday.

    Jurors heard from Stover when he took the stand Tuesday afternoon.

    "It never crossed my mind that I was doing something that was illegal," Stover said. "There's nothing on Earth that would make me commit a


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