MSHA Releases Upper Big Branch’s Approved Ventilation Plan

On April 9, wearing my correspondent’s hat for Mine Safety and Health News, I emailed a member of the Department of Labor public affairs staff, suggesting that this document be posted. On April 12, I again requested the plan. On April 13, I filed a FOIA.

The documentation has now been added by the agency to its single-source Upper Big Branch page here.

(You might think that, as a requester, I might have got word from someone at MSHA that the plan was now posted, rather being left to stumble across it. Or maybe not. Ken Ward has had some things to say lately about transparency at MSHA. My take: It’s mixed, which means much better than before, with some notable lapses. I hope to expand on this particular evaluation over the week end.)

This ventilation plan contains a LOT of material — typical for larger mines. One fact that seems to stick out is that nine revisions of the plan were approved by MSHA in 2010 prior to the explosion — the last of these on March 22. Revisions in mine ventilation plans are not intrinsically unusual, but they might be a good place to start reading. Such revisions often result from back-and-forth between a mine operator and MSHA technical staff; they could indicate what potential ventilation issues had been on the minds of company and MSHA personnel.

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