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UBB foreman reaches deal with state

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A lower-level foreman from Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine has reached an agreement with West Virginia regulators and will voluntarily give up his foreman's license for three years, according to state records made public Tuesday.

The state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training had originally sought to permanently prohibit Jeremy L. Burghduff from working as a coal-mine foreman in West Virginia.

State investigators had alleged that Burghduff had his methane detector turned off when he was supposed to be checking for explosive gas in key sections of the mine in late March and early April 2010, including on the day of the explosion. They also alleged that Burghduff violated state rules by not carrying his emergency breaching device with him underground at all times.

Burghduff's alleged actions had been highlighted in a report that longtime mine safety advocate Davitt McAteer and his independent team wrote about the April 5, 2010, explosion that killed 29 miners at Upper Big Branch.

The McAteer report concluded that disabling methane monitors and faking key tests for explosive gas had become a common practice at the Massey Energy operation in Raleigh County.

Among other things, the McAteer report quoted sworn testimony from a miner who worked with foreman Jeremy Burghduff, telling investigators he knew Burghduff hadn't completed safety checks in a key set of tunnels near the longwall mining section.

The McAteer report also said that investigators downloaded data from Burghduff's methane detector and discovered the device was not turned on during at least 25 of his work shifts between September 2009 and April 2010. Investigators also questioned whether air-flow readings listed by Burghduff on official safety reports could possibly have been accurate, because readings taken over a matter of weeks varied so little from day to day.

"This data raises doubt about the daily and weekly air readings and other data recorded by the crew foreman in the weeks leading up to the disaster," the McAteer report said. "Accurate air readings and water levels in those key ventilation entries would provide a valuable history of conditions in a critical part of the mine in the days and weeks just prior to the explosion."

In a settlement agreement dated April 9, Burghduff agreed to voluntarily surrender a state license to work as an assistant underground mine foreman. State officials agreed to allow him to retain a separate license to work as an underground miner.

For the next three years, Burghduff cannot work as an underground mine foreman, assistant underground mine foreman, surface mine foreman, assistant surface mine foreman, belt examiner, or surface construction supervisor. After that period, he is allowed to reapply for such licenses.

The agreement states that nothing in the deal prohibits Burghduff from immediately seeking a license to work as an apprentice electrician, a shot-firer, or a surface miner.

The agreement was signed by Assistant Attorney General Barry Koerber, Burghduff's lawyer, Andrew Fusco, and Clinton Smith, chairman of the state Coal Mine Safety Board of Appeals.

Under state law, the mine safety office regulates various sorts of mine foremen and the board of appeals hears cases when foremen challenge enforcement actions regarding their licenses.

The agreement says that the deal was made "solely for the purpose of settling this administrative matter amicably" and that nothing in the agreement "shall be deemed an admission" by Burghduff that the allegations against him were true.

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


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