CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Twice last year, federal mine safety officials overseeing the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch mine launched special investigations that are frequently the starting point for criminal probes, according to U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration records.
MSHA records list "preliminary special investigations" for the Upper Big Branch Mine, but do not explain how those investigations were resolved or if they were eventually referred to federal prosecutors.
Top agency officials refused to explain anything about those investigations.
"We are not sharing special investigation data with anybody right now," said Kevin Stricklin, MSHA's coal administrator. "That's private."
Chuck Miller, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, also declined to comment.
Massey officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but company CEO Don Blankenship has argued this week that the Upper Big Branch Mine was well operated and perfectly safe.
"Any suspicion that the mine was improperly operated or illegally operated or anything like that would be unfounded," Blankenship said during one appearance on statewide radio.
MSHA records list the preliminary special investigations from April 3 to May 20, 2009, and from June 11 to July 15, 2009. Computer records do not describe the topics of the investigations, the findings, or any actions taken as a result.