By Mannix Porterfield
Three weeks after the Upper Big Branch explosion left 29 mine workers dead in Raleigh County, federal regulators fanned out in 10 states to examine 57 mines for safety flaws in a massive effort to avoid a repeat of the worst mining tragedy in four decades.
Twenty-three of those mines that fell under the eyes of Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors in surprise checkups the past weekend were in West Virginia.
Inspections came only days before President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are scheduled to headline a memorial service at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center, honoring the victims of the April 5 explosion at a Massey Energy subsidiary mine near Montcoal.
The White House press staff said Wednesday the two plan to travel separately, since Obama will be departing from Asheville, N.C., and confirmed that it is extraordinary when both the president and his vice president appear on the same stage at an event outside the nation’s capital.
However, Obama and Biden have broken tradition twice in their brief stay in office, appearing together in Denver for a stimulus bill signing and again in Tampa, Fla., for a follow-up announcement on the same landmark legislation.
“They are arriving and departing separately,” a White House spokesman told The Register-Herald.
Meantime, the inspection blitz came as MSHA prepared to open its investigation into the cause of the Raleigh County explosion.
Besides the 23 mines in West Virginia, inspections also were executed at 14 mines in Kentucky, four in Alabama, three each in Illinois, Utah and Indiana, two apiece in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Tennessee, and one in Colorado.
“The purpose of these inspections is to provide assurance that no imminent dangers, explosions, hazards or other serious health or safety conditions and practices are present at these mines,” MSHA Director Joe Main said.
“Just last week, we pledged to the president that we will do whatever it takes to make sure another tragedy like the one that claimed 29 miners’ lives at Upper Big Branch never happens again.”
As many as 10 inspectors were dispatched to the mines, depending on the size of the operations. Besides mechanized mining units, inspectors looked at bleeder systems, belt entries and seals. Main ordered his subordinates to look at mine ventilation systems, rock dusting, methane monitoring and mine examinations.
West Virginia mines inspected by MSHA were:
American Eagle, operated by Speed Mining LLC, controlled by Patriot Coal Corp.; Apache mine, operated by New West Virginia Mining Co. and controlled by Brandy M. Horvath;
Aracoma Alma Mine No. 1, operated by Aracoma Coal Co. controlled by Massey Energy; Big Mountain No. 16, operated by Pine Ridge Coal Co., controlled by Patriot;
Blacksville No. 2, run by Consolidation Coal Co., a subsidiary of Consol Energy; Broad Run Mine, operated by Big River Mining, subsidiary of Coalfield Transport; Brody Mining, subsidiary of Brody Trust; Castle Mine, operated by Elk Run Coal Co., subsidiary of Massey;
Coalburg No. 2, operated by Rio Group, controlled by Richard H. Abraham; Eagle Mine, run by Newtown Energy, controlled by Robert E. Ellis; Federal No. 2 and Harris No. 1, both operated by Eastern Associated Coal, a subsidiary of Patriot Coal Corp.;
Justice No. 1, run by Independence Coal Co., a Massey Energy subsidiary; Loveridge No. 22, operated by Consolidation Coal; McElroy mine, operated by McElroy Coal Co., a subsidiary of Consol; No. 21, operated by Marshall Mining, controlled by Carl Kirk;
No. 65, run by Double Bonus Coal Co. and controlled by Mechel Oao; Pinnacle Mine, run by Pinnacle Mining Co. and controlled by Cleveland-Cliffs Inc.;
Powell No. 1 mine, run by INR-WV Operating and controlled by INR-1 Holdings; Road For No. 51 mine, operated by Sparan Mining Co., another Massey subsidiary; Robinson Run No. 95, run by Consolidation Coal; Ruby Energy, run by Spartan Mining for Massey Energy; and Winifreder 12 mine, run by Laurel Coal Corp. and controlled by Clarence Peters and Richard Nester.
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