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Alpha cited in fatal roof fall

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the wake of last week's buyout of Massey Energy, Alpha Natural Resources was cited in a fatal roof fall that occurred last October and hit with three "imminent danger" orders at mines in West Virginia and Kentucky.

The roof fall occurred at one of Alpha's mines, while the three orders issued by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration targeted operations Alpha acquired in the Massey transaction.

William R. Dooley, 56, of Oak Hill, died on Oct. 11, 2010, when piece of roof rock -- measuring 30 inches high, 66 inches long and four to seven inches thick -- fell on him at Alpha subsidiary Kingston Mining's Kingston No. 1 Mine near Scarbro.

In a report made public Monday, MSHA investigators found that the accident occurred because the company "failed to identify hazards created by mining an extended cut in adverse roof conditions and improperly supported the roof in an area that contained adverse roof."

Investigators said that mining the extended cut of coal created a brow, a low place in the mine roof. The change in mining height prompted roof bolt spacing that was too wide in the area of the brow, and mine management did not ensure that adequate supplemental roof supports were installed, according to the MSHA report.

"Management oversight of adverse roof conditions was not adequate," MSHA investigators concluded. "The approved roof control plan was not complied with in that management failed to evaluate adequately the changing geologic conditions and continued mining a 25-foot depth cut."

MSHA issued two citations to Alpha for violating its roof control plan, one for the wide roof-bolt spacing and the other for taking the extended cut of coal despite adverse roof conditions. MSHA had not yet assessed fines for the citations.

In a prepared statement, Alpha spokesman Rick Nida said that the roof fall occurred only minutes after Dooley and a co-worker had completed bolting the uneven section of roof.

"The uneven nature of the roof made bolting it using the standard spacing difficult," Nida said. "Certified mine personnel had not yet had a chance to inspect the bolting when the fall occurred."

MSHA investigators said in their report that the Alpha operation had been cited six times in the previous two years for similar violations.

Nida said, "As a result of the incident, Kingston Mining Inc. took an immediate safety stand-down and conducted extensive training of all mine personnel.

"Mine management modified the roof control plan to address this type of condition and conducted extensive training of all mine personnel," Nida said.

In the other incidents, Alpha said in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing that it received imminent-danger orders on May 31 at the former Massey Justice No. 1 Mine and the White Cabin No. 9 Mine and on June 1 at the Roundbottom Powellton Deep Mine.The Alpha-Massey merger was completed on Jun 1.

At the Justice No. 1 Mine in Boone County, a MSHA inspector alleged that a mine foreman "traveled under hazardous roof conditions." At the White Cabin No. 9 Mine in Martin County, Ky., federal inspectors discovered hazardous roof conditions. And at the Roundbottom Powellton operation in Boone County, inspectors also alleged that the mine roof was not properly supported.

All three incidents were cited as "imminent danger" orders, defined by law as "the existence of any condition or practice in a coal or other mine which could reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical harm before such condition or practice can be abated."

Under a federal law passed in the wake of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster, publicly traded coal companies must now disclose to the SEC and to their shareholders when they receive imminent-danger orders.

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


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