The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 5, 2011

Massey idling underground mines

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

— As West Virginia turns its collective attention to the 29 miners victimized in a horrific explosion a year ago today at a Raleigh County, the mine’s parent owner is temporarily idling 92 underground operations.

In Charleston, acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin planned to place a wreath at the coal miners statue on the Capitol grounds Tuesday morning, then take part in an evening ceremony honoring the miners killed in the blast at a Massey subsidiary, Performance Coal Co.’s Upper Big Branch mine.

“One year ago, 29 hard-working miners perished,” Tomblin said on the eve of the disaster’s one-year anniversary.

“In their memory, I request that every church in our state ring its bell 29 times at 3:01 p.m., which is the estimated time of the deadly explosion. At that moment, I will ask all West Virginians to observe a moment of silence for all miners who have perished and for those who continue to work in harm’s way.”

Massey planned to conduct a safety standdown at its 92 deep mines while leading a company-wide, one-minute, 29-second moment of silence in mid-afternoon to honor the victims of Upper Big Branch.

“As the one-year anniversary of the UBB mine explosion approaches, Massey Energy continues to extend our sincere condolences and heartfelt sympathies to those families and communities who lost loved ones in this tragic accident,” the firm said in a prepared statement.

Massey said it remains committed to “a thorough and comprehensive investigation” in an effort to pinpoint the cause of the explosion and provide answers to family members.

Separate investigations remain in force at the state and federal levels, and both inquiries are nearing their completion.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration plans to conduct a public briefing June 29 on its investigation at the mine safety academy on Airport Road outside Beckley.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com