May 1st, 2010
12:03 AM ET

FBI interviews Massey employees in mine blast probe

The FBI has interviewed almost two dozen current and former employees of Massey Energy Co., which owns the West Virginia mine explosion that killed 29 in early April, to determine whether there was criminal negligence in the disaster, a federal law enforcement official told CNN.

Federal probes are not unusual in mining disasters with many fatalities, said the official, who requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

The Upper Big Branch mine, the site of the April 5 explosion, had been cited for hundreds of safety violations in 2009 and during the first three months of 2010.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration announced Tuesday that it had conducted inspections at three other Massey-owned mines in West Virginia since late March due to anonymous complaints of hazardous conditions.

An MSHA statement said it ordered that miners be withdrawn from particular areas of the three mines and issues "multiple citations for serious violations."

Also on Tuesday, a top federal mine safety official said that existing mining laws and regulations had not been properly enforced before the West Virginia disaster but pledged his agency will now use all its powers to do so.

Joe Main, the assistant secretary of labor for Mine Safety and Health, told a Senate committee that the MSHA will start using its power to immediately shut down mines engaging in unsafe behavior. Main said the authority has existed for decades but has never been used.

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  1. Brantley Foster

    To my mind, it'll be tough for the gov to show that the consequences of whatever oversight they finger as the root cause of this were Rx Fx. If it ends up being as simple as 'There was a methane build-up, sensors alerted personnel but nothing was done or sensors that should have been working weren't, explosion followed, people died then done deal; but I it may be difficult on the back side to determine with what level of granularity the consequences were foreseeable by Massey. Did they just have to know that 'an event' could take place or that the exact chain of events, location, scope of damage, loss of life, etc. would play out?

    May 1, 2010 at 7:55 am | Report abuse |
  2. roger

    Corporate America has an ever growing culture of profit being more imporant than human life. Sadly, 9/11 can be viewed in that context. Isreal and others had for years told us to get somethimg more than shower curtains on cock pit doors. Each time the FAA would voice concern the airlines would assume the fetal position and whine about being competitive. There may have been a 9/11 attack but it did not have to involve flying planes into buildings.

    May 1, 2010 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
  3. concerned

    Please families of deceased miners – do not settle with Massey yet. I think it is obvious and despicable that the Massey leadership is trying to settle these cases before all the facts come out. I think that they a speculating that at a later date with more info these claims will be substantially higher in value. If they were really concerned with the welfare of the families they would pay them a advance on any settlement with no strings attached. That will not happen. Massey just paid mega millions for a bunch of mines in our county. I'm very concerned for our miners here while they work for a company with such sleazy leadership.

    May 1, 2010 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jeff

    Interesting that the MHSA has never exercised its power to shut down unsafe mines. If you just fine a company for safety violations, they'll consider it the cost of doing business. If the mine in question had received hundreds of safety citations in a year, maybe it should have been shut down long ago, before this incident ever happened.

    May 1, 2010 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
  5. Richard

    My grandfather was a coal miner. His son, my uncle, was a coal miner. My two brothers are currently coal miners. My step-dad was a coal miner. I graduated high school with several classmates who lost loved ones due to situations just like this one at Upper Big Branch.

    Sadly, the mine management/ownership, for as long as I can remember and as long as history teaches us, seemed ignore or look over spending money on safety issues such as these.

    On the other hand, there is clear evidence that the mine management/ownership has invested tens of thousands of dollars, if not millions, on new safety equipment for the miners.

    So, who is to blame? When we lose loved ones, it is natural for us to feel like someone must pay for their actions.

    In cases like this one, as sad as it is, finger pointing and witch hunts really don't solve anything. Don't get me wrong. Someone has to accept responsibility for this incident and the ongoing safety violations.

    Regardless of who that person or who those people are, a body of people will be a direct representation of their leadership. If the mine leadership showed the miners that they didn't care about such issues or that they were too costly to fix, then at some point the miners themselves would have adopted this mindset.

    The bottom line is that safety is the responsibility of everyone. It starts at the top and must be ingrained in the hearts and minds of the workers on the bottom.

    Again, someone will have to bare the responsibility of this sad, sad event, but we're all responsible for safety from the deep mine to the outside strip job.

    May 1, 2010 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  6. Rodney Combs

    first my heart sent condolences to the famile's,of these men/miners,the operators are ALL TOO GREEDY, and DO, put profit ahead of the employee's,this coming from a disabled miner=16 yr's under ground,in harlan Ky,sadly,their's pay-off's,bribery's and alot of things that go on,in the mining industry,and none I,repeat NONE, of it benifits the miners who are in there,digging coal,please do,hold out,and see if they get to the exact cause/truth,to this terrible disaster,and God Bless,You All

    May 1, 2010 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  7. KC Crosier

    The sleazy Massey Big Wheel was over-heard say : Loss of life has to be a acceptable risk with operating mines. What?? Ovisously which will come to no surprise to those that know him, the loss of life and even the exstensive fines for poor safety operations are just part of the operating cost that makes him millions evey year. Shame on him..

    May 1, 2010 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
  8. krisjan

    Blankenship and Massey are murderers! Jail the bastards. And now they want to offer the survivors $100K a piece. Give me a break. Jail the bastards, jail them.

    May 1, 2010 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |