CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Massey Energy on Friday continued to disagree with findings of the federal government's investigation into the explosion that killed 29 workers at the company's Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County.
Massey officials told families of the miners, and then media representatives, that they don't believe worn-out bits on a mining machine, broken water sprays or a buildup of explosive coal dust contributed to the Upper Big Branch disaster.
"We just look at the evidence a different way, I guess," Massey general counsel Shane Harvey said during a telephone media briefing Friday morning.
Massey held the media briefing at the same time it continued a closed-door meeting with families of the miners, and a week after the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration offered its most detailed discussion of the evidence so far gathered in the mine disaster probe.
MSHA officials and the independent investigators appointed by Gov. Joe Manchin believe the explosion involved an ignition of methane that was then made more powerful -- and spread through the mine -- by a buildup of highly explosive coal dust.
"The science supports the conclusion that coal dust was involved in this explosion," said Davitt McAteer, who is leading the independent probe.
Since the disaster, Massey has engaged in a heated public-relations effort to challenge the MSHA probe and to lay the groundwork for its legal defense in wrongful-death cases by the miners' families.
At the same time, MSHA has harshly criticized Massey's safety practices and federal prosecutors have said they are investigating potential criminal violations dating back more than four years at Upper Big Branch.
MSHA investigators had said they believed the "most likely" ignition source for the explosion was bit on the longwall mining machine's cutting tool, or shearer. Agency officials showed family members and the media photograph of one worn bit, emphasizing how without a fresh carbide tip the bit would be more likely to spark when it cut into mine rock.
Massey officials went directly after that argument, distributing a photo showing the rest of the longwall shearer's bits, and saying that only two of the unit's 44 bits showed the sort of wear in the photo MSHA released. The company also repeated its previous position that missing water spray nozzles did not contribute the explosion.