CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A coal industry watchdog says the Boone County mine where two coal miners were killed Monday night was on the radar of federal and state mine safety officials.
“This mine has had a very troubling history,” said Ellen Smith, owner and managing editor of Mine Safety and Health News.
The victims at Patriot Coal’s Brody No. 1 Mine near Wharton were identified as Eric Legg, 48, of Twilight, and Gary Hensley, 46, of Chapmanville. Initial reports from the state Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training indicated the men were killed in a coal outburst that happened around 8:47 p.m. Monday.
“A coal outburst is when the stresses of the mine cause the coal to, literally, explode into the area where the men are working and this is what happened at the Crandall Canyon Mine in 2007 (in Utah) when there were these six miners killed and the three rescuers killed,” Smith explained.
“It is an explosive force. It’s not just you see cracks and pieces of coal might crumble down. When you talk about an outburst, you are literally talking about an explosive force of rock.”
The Brody No. 1 Mine has been on the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s pattern of violation (POV) status since Oct. 15, 2013. Patriot Coal challenged the status—part of increased enforcement efforts that followed the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster—claiming the repeated violations happened under the mine’s former owner and changes in both management and policy have been made since the acquisition.
“During the period of time it has operated as a Patriot subsidiary, the Brody Mine has made considerable and measurable progress toward improved safety and compliance. Patriot firmly believes that the Brody Mine does not qualify for POV status, and the company intends to vigorously contest the POV finding,” Patriot officials said in a statement at that time.
According to Smith’s Mine Safety and Health News, arguments on that case are scheduled for May 22.
In the last year before going on POV status, Patriot’s Brody Mine received 268 significant and substantial (S&S) orders. Of those, 32 were said to be of either high or reckless disregard. In total, since operations at Brody started in 2006, records showed a large injury rate.
“What is most troubling is its injury rate is 208 percent higher than the national average. It’s had 35 injuries in the last year,” said Smith on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”