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Coal Report for December 19, 2014

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Patriot Coal’s Highland Mine in Union County, Ky., where a coal miner was killed last week

Another coal miner has been killed on the job, this time in Western Kentucky. The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that Eli Eldridge, who was 34, was killed on December 16th at Patriot Coal’s Highland #9 mine in Union County. Eldridge was reportedly killed after being hit by a ram car underground. And as SNL Energy reports, he and every other worker at the Highland mine had just recently been notified by Patriot that they could soon be laid off due to large-scale cutbacks. He became the 15th coal miner killed at work in the US this year, and the 2nd in Kentucky.

In other news, there have been more coal layoffs in central Appalachia, as the market for metallurgical coal, which is used to make steel, continues to slump. In West Virginia, The Bluefield Daily Telegraph reports that the company ArcelorMittal will be laying off 58 miners at 3 mines in McDowell County—the XMV, Concept, & Extra Energy mines. ArcelorMittal is an international steel conglomerate that is headquartered in Luxembourg, and they mine metallurgical coal to make steel. The company blamed poor market conditions and decreased coal demand for the layoffs. Outside of McDowell County, the Continue reading Coal Report for December 19, 2014

Coal Report for December 3, 2014

the interior of the Kentucky Darby Mine in Harlan County, Ky., the site of a fatal explosion in 2006. the mine's two owners didn't pay safety fines issued after the accident, and they are part of a group that owes, collectively, $2.9 million in unpaid mine safety fines // photo from MSHA

According to a new investigation, over the past twenty years, coal operators across the country have racked up some $70 million dollars in unpaid fines for health and safety violations.  National Public Radio reports that, according to their findings, about 7% of mines that are operating have been doing so with fines left unpaid.  These delinquent mines have an injury rate that is 50% higher than normal, and in all, they accounted for some 40,000 significant and substantial violations and 4,000 reported injuries over the past twenty years, including accidents that killed 25 miners and permanently disabled 58 others.

Of the ten coal operators nationwide with the most unpaid fines, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports that six of them come from eastern Kentucky.  The biggest offender was the D&C mining company in Harlan County, Ky., which by itself owed some $4.7 million in fines as of the end of September.  Their fines largely stemmed from a 2009 fatal accident at the D&C mine, and the company in all produced some $50 million worth of coal while it left its fines unpaid.  A group that includes two former owners of the Kentucky Darby mine, where five miners were killed in a methane explosion in 2006, owed the second-highest Continue reading Coal Report for December 3, 2014

Coal Report for November 21, 2014

graphic from Appalachian Voices, one of the citizen groups preparing to file suit against Frasure Creek for violations of the Clean Water Act // found via http://appvoices.org/2014/11/17/frasure-creek-same-tricks/

Alpha Natural Resources has announced even more layoffs in Central Appalachia this month.   Most recently, the West Virginia State Journal reports that Alpha will be idling the Taylor Fork mine in Pike County, Kentucky, and reducing production at two mines in West Virgina: at the Ruby Energy mine in Mingo County and at the Rockspring Development mine in Wayne County.  All of these mines produce thermal coal.  In total, 60 people will be laid off in the short-term, and another 26 people will be retained temporarily to shut down operations at the Taylor Fork mine in Pike County.  Alpha said these layoffs occurred because of “an oversupply of thermal coal in the marketplace.”

Alpha also announced this month that it will permanently idle the Cucumber metallurgical mine in McDowell County, W.Va.  According to the Bluefield Daily TelegraphAlpha blamed this on the weak market for metallurgical coal, which is used to make steel—global met coal prices are the lowest they have been in seven years, and producers the world over are suffering Continue reading Coal Report for November 21, 2014

Coal Report for November 13, 2014

former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, right, on vacation in Monaco with former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice "Spike" Maynard // photo from the Associated Press, found via http://www.herald-dispatch.com/elections/x1619683909

Don Blankenship has been indicted.  According to a release from the US Attorney’s Office (and read more from the Charleston Gazette here, here, & here), the former CEO of Massey Energy was charged four times—including two counts of conspiracy to violate mine safety and health standards and hide those violations, one count of lying to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and another of securities fraud.  Massey owned the Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 coal miners were killed at once on April 5, 2010 in Raleigh County,WV, in a massive methane explosion.  The charges allege that between January 1, 2008 and April 9, 2010, Blankenship, in his position as Massey CEO, knowingly conspired to violate federal mine health and safety standards at Upper Big Branch, and also took part in a conspiracy to give workers at the mine advance notice of when inspectors were coming so that they could hide safety violations.  Prosecutors also allege that Blankenship lied to the Securities and Exchange Commission after the explosion about Massey’s health and safety standards to buoy the value of Massey stock.

These are landmark charges—as the Charleston Gazette has reported, it is rare for the CEOs themselves of major coal companies to be indicted.  Back in 2011, the paper quoted mine safety advocate Davitt McAteer of saying that normally, “Enforcement doesn’t reach into the boardroom.”  Blankenship has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing at Upper Big Branch, even though government and independent investigations all blamed Massey for the explosion, specifically the violation of Continue reading Coal Report for November 13, 2014

Coal Report for November 6, 2014

the Farmington Mine explosion of November 20, 1968 // photo via wikipedia (who says it's in the public domain--though it appears from this post on the Charleston Gazette's Coal Tattoo blog that the photo was taken by the Gazette's Larry Pierce (http://www.roanoke.com/news/regulators-seek-funds-from-four-justice-coal-mines/article_d38dffc9-6f2d-5df8-9dd9-8cf532c9ab28.html)

A new lawsuit is alleging that Consolidation Coal covered up evidence as to what caused the Farmington Mine Disaster, which killed 78 coal miners in 1968.  The Charleston Gazette reports that the disaster happened 46 years ago this month, when an explosion ripped through Consolidation Coal’s No. 9 mine in Farmington, West Virginia, killing 78 of the 99 workers underground at the time.  Even though the disaster led to a landmark federal mine safety law the next year, the government investigation into it was never really finished, and for decades, investigators said they couldn’t definitively say what actually caused the explosion.

But recently uncovered evidence cited in this lawsuit suggests the company tried to cover up their role in the disaster.  This lawsuit says that MSHA found explosive levels of methane gas in the mine the day before the explosion, and “inadequate overall” ventilation to keep these methane levels down, including ventilation fans not working.  The suit references a long-hidden memo saying that Consolidation Coal had intentionally disabled the alarm system on the ventilation fans, which is Continue reading Coal Report for November 6, 2014

Coal Report for October 29, 2014

Ky Rep. Keith Hall (D-Phelps), vice-chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, & the permit-holder for Pike County mines cited for safety & environmental violations // photo from LRC Public Information

Kentucky state representative Keith Hall has been indicted by a federal grand jury for bribing a mine inspector.  The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that Hall, who owns several mining operations in Pike County, paid $46,000 in bribes to mine inspector Kelly Shortridge between 2009 and 2011 in exchange for Shortridge ignoring environmental violations.  Hall reportedly funneled the bribes through a bogus shell company.  Shortridge, who resigned earlier this year, was also indicted for taking the bribes, for lying to the FBI, and for extortion.  As the Lexington Herald-Leader has reported, the pair made headlines last year when Representative Hall called the state to complain about Shortridge, with Hall complaining that he had already given the mine inspector “a small fortune” but that Shortridge was still shaking him down for more.  Hall reportedly said that Shortridge “liked the benjamins.”

As a coal operator, the vice chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment, and the chairman of the House Tourism, Development, and Energy committee, Hall has come under fire for several controversies in recent years.  Last year it was revealed that Hall holds permits to several east Kentucky mines with a long history of safety violations, including water pollution, improper maintenance of slurry ponds, and the reckless blasting of rocks onto several nearby homes and properties.  And just this April, the Appalachian News-Express reported (along with the Lexington Herald-Leader) that one of his coal companies leaked an unknown amount of a white, foamy chemical into the drinking water supply of Continue reading Coal Report for October 29, 2014