A mine explosion in the West Virginia community of Montcoal has killed 25 mine workers, making it the
deadliest mining accident in 25 years. Four miners are still
trapped in "dire" conditions. The accident occurred in the Upper Big Branch Mine, owned by energy company Massey Energy, which has a history of safety violations.
Happened? New York Magazine's Josh Duboff writes, "A United Workers official said the
current hypothesis is that the
explosion was the result of a methane gas build-up in a 'sealed off'
section of the mine, though this theory hasn’t yet been confirmed by
state or federal authorities." The built-up methane could have exploded
if it was lit by even a spark.
West Virginia's 'Sadness' and 'Glory' West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller tells Rachel Maddow, "this is something that is in the sadness of all the glory of West Virginia characteristics, fighting and climbing hills all the time, this is -- this is the tragic part." He says, "It's very emotional, very powerful, very awful -- and finally, very Appalachian."
not unusual for bituminous coal to be saturated with methane, also
known as natural gas. In the west, oil and gas companies take advantage
of this fact to produce natural gas by drilling into coal beds. In
underground mines, this methane is no longer a benefit. In these mines
the damp face of the coal may literally bubble and hiss with escaping
gas. So long as the percentage of methane stays below around 5%, danger
is not too severe. For that reason, mines carry out regular inspections
and monitor the level of gas. Walls are built inside the mine to route
air through different areas to see that the working areas of the mine
never come close to the danger zone. Once it reaches the critical
percentage, methane laden air becomes explosive. Today that system of
inspection and ventilation failed.
This Mine's Terrible
Record The New York Times' Ian Urbina reports, "For at
least six of the past 10 years, federal records indicate, the Upper Big
Branch mine has recorded an injury rate worse than the national average
for similar operations. The records also show that the mine had 458
violations in 2009, with a total of $897,325 in safety penalties
assessed against it last year. It has paid $168,393 in safety penalties"
Blame the Mining Corp The Moderate Voice's Patrick Edaburn cautions,
"It’s easy to law blame on the mine owners but the fact is there are
simply inherent dangers to mining with the accumulation of explosive
gases. I do hope though there will be a complete investigation after the
rescue operation is complete."
CEO Is 'Comic Book' 'Villain'
Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson profiled
Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship in January as one of the top "climate
The country’s highest-paid coal executive, Blankenship
is a villain ripped straight from the comic books: a jowly,
mustache-sporting, union-busting coal baron who uses his fortune to bend
politics to his will. He recently financed a $3.5 million campaign to
oust a state Supreme Court justice who frequently ruled against his
company, and he hung out on the French Riviera with another judge who
was weighing an appeal by Massey. "Don Blankenship would actually be
less powerful if he were in elected office," Rep. Nick Rahall of West
Virginia once observed. "He would be twice as accountable and half as
feared." On the national level, Blankenship enjoys a position of
influence on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has led
the fight to kill climate legislation
The Danger of Mine
Rescues MSNBC's Rachel Maddow discusses the risks
and challenges with Tony Oppegard, a Clinton-era mining safety official:
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