Main has been under increasing pressure to conduct witness interviews and other portions of the MSHA investigation through a hearing that would be open to the general public and the media. The United Mine Workers union has called for such a hearing, as has a collection of media organizations, including The Charleston Gazette. At least two widows have also asked for a public hearing.
Investigators believe the huge explosion was caused by the ignition of methane and probably made far worse by accumulations of coal dust.
Federal and state officials have delayed going back underground to gather evidence because sampling has found gases that could indicate there is an ongoing fire. Massey is pumping nitrogen into the mine to put out the fire, but officials have said privately it could be several months before it is safe for teams to re-enter the mine.
Witness interviews in such investigations have generally been conducted in private, but with coal company lawyers often being allowed in the room.
Interviews in the Upper Big Branch probe have been repeatedly delayed, and were postponed again Tuesday as MSHA struggles to sort out how to proceed.
"We are waiting for MSHA to decide if hearings will be private or public," said Jama Jarrett, a spokeswoman for the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.