JULIAN, W.Va. --Alpha Natural Resources employees and coal industry officials spent part of West Virginia's 150th birthday dedicating a new training facility the company says is another step in its ongoing reform of safety practices at Massey Energy operations it purchased more than two years ago.
"I want to be sure that, where lives and health are on the line, there is not one more thing we could have done -- not one more thing," said Alpha CEO Kevin Crutchfield.
Crutchfield spoke during a daylong dedication event for the $23 million, 136,000-square-foot "Running Right Leadership Academy" along Corridor G in Boone County.
Safety officers and mine-rescue team members provided tours of the academy, showing off classrooms, high-tech laboratories and an underground-mine simulation facility.
The academy includes classroom space for up to 300 people, virtual-reality simulators for training on continuous-mining machines and other equipment, and laboratories for electrical, maintenance and welding courses.
David Green, an Alpha mine-rescue captain, recalled his own family's long history in mining -- noting one death and one serious injury -- in explaining why the new training facility matters.
"To me, they're not just coal miners. They're my family," Green said of his Alpha co-workers. "These men are my brothers. I want the best for my brothers."
Bristol, Va.-based Alpha was required to build the facility as part of an agreement in which U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin agreed not to bring corporate criminal charges against Alpha over the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. Alpha inherited any criminal liability when it acquired Performance Coal, which operated Upper Big Branch, as part of its June 2011 purchase of Massey.
As part of the more than $200 million settlement with Goodwin, Alpha agreed to install significant new safety technology, create a trust to fund health and safety research, and take other steps to improve safety practices, especially at the former Massey operations.
Since the Alpha-Massey buyout, Alpha executives and coalfield political leaders have said the company's much-promoted "Running Right" safety program would reform practices at former Massey operations.
During Thursday's event, Alpha officials generally steered clear of direct references to the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, although some Alpha rescue-team members wore "29" cap stickers in memory of the miners who died in the April 2010 explosion.
Joe Main, assistant U.S. Labor secretary for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said in brief remarks that, after the disaster, "it became abundantly clear that change was necessary."
Main said the nation's miners "deserved better than the level of safety that existed" and praised Alpha for its efforts since taking over the Massey operations.