A Kanawha County Circuit judge has upheld a state law requiring coal mine operators to report serious accidents such as fires to mining authorities within 15 minutes.
The ruling comes in a case involving an International Coal Group subsidiary that was fined $100,000 for waiting too long to report a gas ignition in 2008. Judge Tod Kaufman ruled Nov. 19 that Wolf Run Mining Co. failed to report the ignition by the 15-minute mark and reinstated the fine, which had been overturned by the state Coal Mine Safety Board of Appeals.
The decision is the first legal test for the reporting requirement, one of a myriad of changes in state law passed after the deaths of 12 miners at ICG’s Sago Mine on Jan. 2, 2006.
It’s also another victory for the state Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training, which brought the appeal. In 2008, Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Duke Bloom reinstated a $100,000 late reporting fine against Massey Energy Co. after the Board of Appeals cut it to $10,000.
Assistant Attorney General Elaine Skorich said the state mine office is thrilled.
“It’s reassuring to know that the laws passed after the Sago Mine disaster are working to promote safety for West Virginia’s coal miners,” Skorich said.
Scott Depot-based ICG is considering an appeal, General Counsel Roger Nicholson said.
“We’re disappointed by the Judge’s ruling, and believe that the Board’s earlier decision that Wolf Run had not violated the required immediate notice provision was the correct one,” Nicholson said in an e-mail. “We will review the decision and determine whether Wolf Run will seek further judicial review.”
The case centered on the briefest of accidents at ICG’s Sentinel Mine in Barbour County. It was just after midnight on May 21, 2008 when a miner reported seeing an orange glow perhaps 7 feet high for a few seconds, according to court records. Three other miners told their foreman that they, too, had seen something.
Their foreman, however, couldn’t find evidence of an ignition and the section had normal methane levels and air flow, and he was unconvinced. A second foreman finally reported the incident to the state mine office and its federal counterpart.
Kaufman’s ruling is succinct: State law requires reporting within 15 minutes, an ignition occurred and Wolf Run should have reported it promptly.
The board was wrong to decide in Wolf Run’s favor and to decide the state mine office hadn’t proved a violation occurred, he wrote.
ICG also was cited by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration for missing its 15-minute reporting deadline. The company is contesting a $4,000 fine, according to the agency’s website.