Massey Responds

My editor at Mine Safety and Health News, Ellen Smith, gave permission to republish here the following update, which was distributed to subscribers earlier today.

Massey Energy Responds On Family Benefits, Safety Record

Massey Energy is “meeting with families and describing benefits that it will provide to them,” the company advised Mine Safety and Health News in response to an inquiry about financial arrangements for families and co-workers in the wake of the April 5 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine.

Other Upper Big Branch miners, who no longer have a place to work since the explosion closed the mine, will be shifted to other Massey operations “where possible and practical,” the company stated.

Benefits offered to the families, the coal producer said in its statement, “are designed to ensure that no family will have to worry about missing a paycheck, paying a medical bill or sending a child to college.”

“At least one internet media source has inaccurately suggested that these benefits are being provided to settle lawsuits,” the statement continued. “This is absolutely untrue. These benefits are being provided by the Company without any obligation by the families to agree to any settlement.”

In addition, the statement continued, “The Company is aware that personal injury lawyers have published advertisements seeking cases and that some personal injury lawyers have made efforts to contact some of the families during this difficult time.

“Massey Energy believes that there will be an appropriate time to discuss settlement options with the families. If any proposals are made to the families, those families will be given a full opportunity to review those proposals with a lawyer of their choosing.

“To the extent settlements are reached, it is the Company’s desire that the families — and not personal injury attorneys — receive the money. Unfortunately, personal injury attorneys frequently take 30-40% of any settlement received by a family. The Company hopes such a result can be avoided in this circumstance,“ the company statement concluded.

Separately, Massey also published a response to yesterday’s remarks by President Obama, who noted that many questions remain unanswered but added, “…[W]e do know that this tragedy was triggered by a failure at the Upper Big Branch mine — a failure first and foremost of management, but also a failure of oversight and a failure of laws so riddled with loopholes that they allow unsafe conditions to continue.”

Massey Energy, in its response, called the President’s comments “regrettable.”

“We fear that the President has been misinformed about our record and the mining industry in general,” the company stated.

“As to our record,” the statement continued, “we note that in 2009, under this administration, MSHA presented Massey Energy with three ‘Sentinels of Safety’ Awards – the highest number of such awards ever received by one company in a single year.

“There has been criticism regarding the backlog of violations that have been appealed. There have been violations at Upper Big Branch that the Company does not agree with and a number of those violations have been appealed. The percentage of violations appealed at UBB and Massey is similar to that for the industry as a whole.

“The enormous backlog of appeals waiting to be heard has been frustrating to all involved. We urge Congress to appropriate the funds necessary to enable this system to work better by helping government regulators to resolve the enormous backlog at MSHA.

“Regardless of the backlog, however, it’s important to understand that all violations must be fixed and are fixed to the satisfaction of state and federal agencies before mines are allowed to continue operating. Most violations are fixed the same day they are discovered.

“Massey believes in safety, accountability and responsibility,” the company stated. “We seek the truth in the ongoing investigations and are cooperating with federal and state agencies to determine the cause of the tragic accident at Upper Big Branch Mine. Unfortunately, some are rushing to judgment for political gain or to avoid blame. Our goal is to communicate transparently as the facts unfold, ” the company concluded.

# # #

Just one family is known to have filed a suit over the Upper Big Branch accident. The Beckley Register-Herald has, so far as I know, the most detailed story about that lawsuit at this point.

Latest point of interest: Davitt McAteer, heading a special inquiry for the state, says he’s looking into surface blasting as a possible contributing factor, Ken Ward reports in the Charleston Gazette. Could surface blasting have caused ground movement that release massive quantities of methane? If so, that would be a novel factor in a major mine explosion, to the best of my knowledge.

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