Among other things, Blankenship said that most of the citations issued by MSHA to the Upper Big Branch Mine "were resolved on the same day they were issued."
But the latest documents released by MSHA included one withdrawal order that was issued after inspectors on Jan. 11 found large accumulations of explosive coal dust on conveyor belt rollers. Coal dust that builds up on and around belts can ignite from friction, and such problems were among the central causes of the January 2009 Aracoma Alma No. 1 fire that killed two Massey miners.
At Upper Big Branch, inspectors wrote that a mine foreman found the problem two days earlier, on Jan. 9 and that the company had "been working on it."
"At the time of this inspection, no one was working on it," the MSHA inspectors wrote. "The operator engaged in aggravated conduct by his failure to correct the known hazard before running the belt."
MSHA issued another withdrawal order on March 15 after an inspector found that accumulations of coal and coal dust had been allowed to build up behind the longwall conveyor belt drive. Nine days later, on March 24, an MSHA inspector reported that "no apparent effort was made by the operator to remove accumulations" cited in the previous violation.
Also back in January, state inspectors cited Massey in a running ventilation dispute when they found the company had made major changes to the Upper Big Branch Mine's ventilation system without first seeking and receiving agency approval.
The change was made in mid-December, when Massey directed air from a working mining section into the longwall belt tunnel. Such changes need state approval, and state inspectors were concerned Massey's airflow plan would result in potentially dirty air going from the longwall belt tunnel into areas of the section where miners were working. State inspectors cited Massey on Dec. 31, 2009.
Four days later, Massey sought approval to change the airflow so that the potentially dirty air would not end up in the longwall belt tunnel.
State officials approved that proposal the same day, Jan. 4. But during a mine visit on Jan. 27, inspectors found that the old configuration -- which the state had rejected -- was still in use. Inspectors did not mark the problem as being corrected until early March.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.