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Massey Miner: Upper Big Branch Was ‘Ticking Time Bomb’

Members of the House Education and Labor Committee are holding a satellite hearing this morning in Beckley, W.Va., to examine the Upper Big Branch mine explosion, which killed 29 Massey miners and almost killed a 30th not far from Beckley.

What’s striking is how closely today’s testimony from UBB miners and their families resembles the damning stories about Massey’s corporate culture that we’ve been hearing about from former Massey miners since the April 5 tragedy.

For instance, Stanley Stewart, a UBB miner for 15 years who was underground during the blast, told lawmakers today that the ventilation system inside the mine suffered constant problems, and — worse — that Massey higher-ups never really cared to fix them.

“The area of the mine [where] we were working was liberating a lot of methane,” Stewart said. “Mine management never fully addressed the air problem when it would be shut down by inspectors. They would fix it just good enough to get us to load coal again, but then it would be back to business as usual.”

My experience in the mines showed me that the ventilation system they had didn’t work. And with so much methane being liberated, and no air moving it gave me the feeling that area was a ticking time bomb. I was told prior to the April 5th explosion, that they had experienced at least 2 fireballs on the drum of the shearer.

This leads me to believe the methane was indeed building in that area, showing lack of air and ventilation problems. One question that I have is how could methane build up to that point where a fireball could start? How could this happen if the methane detectors had been working?

A longer piece on this to follow.

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