MSHA announced Friday that more than 1,400 of 1,803 samples collected inside the Upper Big Branch mine by investigators show excessive amounts of coal dust were present before the blast. The findings bolster MSHA's preliminary findings issued 10 days after the explosion that a mix of methane and coal dust caused the explosion.
The Associated Press reported Sept. 12 that handwritten logs recording inspections by Upper Big Branch employees showed eight conveyer belts had excessive amounts of coal dust 32 minutes before the explosion. Mine owner Massey Energy's chief counsel, Shane Harvey, has conceded that miners would have been unable to correct that violation before the blast. But Harvey insists that the mine was adequately dusted and the logs merely reflect reminders to dust the mine.
He repeated Massey's contention that dust samples collected months after the accident are baseless.
Harvey raised no immediate objection to the emergency rule.
"We'll analyze the regulation,'' Harvey said. "We agree that rock dusting is critically important in coal mines.''
Blankenship cited several examples of what he considers lies and misinformation from the agency. Among them were MSHA's decision to order two Massey employees out of the mine the day of the blast. MSHA has not publicly accused the pair of tampering with evidence as Blankenship claimed.
"It raises an issue about how much sense they have to think that someone would do that,'' Blankenship said.
He also blasted MSHA over claims that methane monitors at the mine had been tampered with to prevent them from working. Those accusations have come from current and former employees during congessional testimony.
Blankenship also repeated Massey's contention that methane entered the mine from a floor crack and overwhelmed safeguards such as ventilation equipment. MSHA has dismissed that notion.
Several of the victims apparently tried to cut off power to the mine's main mining machine in the seconds before the blast, Blankenship said.