JULIAN, W.Va. — Employees of the state’s largest coal company will soon know how it feels to be trapped underground. Alpha Natural Resources dedicated its new Running Right Leadership Academy in Boone County Thursday.

The $23 million state-of-the-art facility was one of the stipulations in a federal court settlement over the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster when Alpha purchased UBB owner Massey Energy.

“It’s a 96-thousand square foot (mine lab) and it mimics an underground coal mine,” said Alpha Natural Resources Director of Learning and Development Cheryl Stapleton. “It has the actual equipment you would see underground.”

The entire academy is 136-thousand square feet.

The facility enables instructors to create controlled conditions identical to an underground mine fire or an underground flood. Miners who train will be able to experience those conditions and learn how to deal with unpredictable obstacles in a real life scenario.

“God forbid they would ever have to face that in a real environment,” Stapleton said. “But we don’t want it to be the first time they’ve felt that heat or had to deal with those conditions.”

Initially all of Alpha’s workforce will be trained in the simulated facility. Eventually Alpha plans to make the operation available to everybody in the coal industry for safety training underground.

Twenty-nine coal miners were killed in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in Raleigh County in April 2010. As part of a December 2011 non-prosecution agreement with the federal government, Alpha, which purchased Massey, was required to make payments and safety investments totaling $209 million.


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