Alpha tries to distance itself from Massey safety record
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With the closing date for its buyout of Massey Energy fast approaching, Alpha Natural Resources is distancing itself from Massey's troubled safety record and downplaying the influence of Massey executives on the combined company.
Alpha spokesman Ted Pile said Thursday night that a top Massey vice president, Chris Adkins, won't help run the safety portions of Alpha's "Running Right" program and will not be part of the "chain of responsibility" for safety and health practices after the buyout.
"[Adkins] won't have any responsibility for our primary safety program," Pile said in an email to the Gazette-Mail.
The role Adkins, Massey's chief operating officer, would have at the combined company was questioned Thursday by Davitt McAteer in an independent report on the deaths of 29 miners in the April 2010 explosion at Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine.
In a 126-page report, McAteer and his team noted that Alpha CEO Kevin Crutchfield had announced in mid-April that Adkins would co-direct the Running Right Office of Safety and Excellence.
"One need look no further than UBB, where conditions, as described in this report, reflected a mine in which safety standards were swept aside in the rush to produce coal," the McAteer report said.
McAteer's team also noted that Adkins was chief operating officer of Massey in January 2006, when a fire at the company's Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine killed two miners. Massey's Aracoma Coal Co. subsidiary admitted to criminal safety violations related to that fire.
The report also noted Adkins was chief operating officer of Massey when conditions at the company's Freedom Mine in Kentucky prompted the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration to seek a federal court injunction to close the mine.
Pressed about the matter during a Thursday news conference, McAteer said he's concerned that Alpha executives "have not grasped the magnitude of the problem" with Massey's safety culture and practices. "Those questions need to be answered by the purchasing company," he said.
Later, Pile said that McAteer misunderstood the role Adkins would play if the merger is approved by the shareholders for both companies at meetings scheduled for June 1.
Pile said the Running Right program is split into two parts and that Alpha executive Randy McMillion would run the part of the program focused on safety matters.
"Randy and his team have a comprehensive plan ready to deploy starting Day 1, which in 70 or so sessions will touch every Massey employee with our Running Right safety process," Pile said. "We will bolster that with another round of follow-up training and we will give miners all the tools necessary to implement the process completely within Massey."
McMillion was president of Alpha's Brooks Run Mining subsidiary in January 2007, when two miners died in a massive roof fall at the company's Cucumber Mine in McDowell County. The company paid $80,000 in fines for two major safety violations.
Just two weeks ago, an Alpha contractor pleaded guilty in federal court to lying to government investigators about training practices at that same mine.
On Friday, the United Mine Workers union issued a statement criticizing Alpha for its plans to keep Adkins and also provide a job for Massey's general counsel, Shane Harvey.
"In the wake of the strong report issued yesterday on the Upper Big Branch disaster by the West Virginia Governor's Independent Investigation Panel, the wisdom of putting these people into critical slots in Alpha must be called into serious question," said UMW President Cecil Roberts.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at email@example.com or 304-348-1702.