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McAteer report on UBB due out Thursday

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The first detailed government report on the causes of the disaster at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine is scheduled to be released Thursday, officials said Monday.

Independent investigator Davitt McAteer said he would brief families of the miners who died about his report and then hold a press conference to release his findings to the public and the media.

After the April 2010 disaster, McAteer was appointed as a special investigator by then-Gov. Joe Manchin.

McAteer is a longtime mine safety advocate who ran the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Clinton administration. McAteer and a group of associates conducted similar independent reviews following the Sago Mine Disaster and the Aracoma Mine fire in January 2006.

Unlike separate reviews by MSHA and the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training, McAteer has been taking a broader look not only at Massey's safety practices, but also at state and federal oversight failures that could have played a role in the disaster.

The report is expected to quote extensively from closed-door interviews of more than 300 witnesses. Previously, only testimony by mine rescue teams had been made public by MSHA. Investigators have also interviewed a wide variety of government inspectors and Massey employees.

Eighteen top Massey management personnel, including former CEO Don Blankenship, asserted their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and refused to be interviewed.

Twenty-nine miners died in the April 5, 2010, explosion, making Upper Big Branch the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in nearly 40 years.

Federal and state investigators have said they believe the explosion involved an ignition of methane gas that was made far worse by a dangerous buildup of explosive coal dust underground.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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