25 dead, 4 missing in Massey coal mine disaster

Seven miners were killed and another 19 are missing “after an explosion rocked a Massey Energy underground coal mine” in southern West Virginia this afternoon.  Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson has the story in this repost.

The explosion took place at 3 pm at Massey subsidiary Performance Coal Co.’s Upper Big Branch Mine-South between the towns of Montcoal and Naoma. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow dedicated the beginning of her program to covering the disaster, interviewing veteran Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward, Jr., and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) by telephone. Listen to Ward reporting on the tragic details slowly emerging from the mine:

This Massey disaster is on the scale of the 2006 Sago Mine disaster which killed 13 people, the worst coal mine disaster in the United States since the Farmington Mine disaster of 1968, which killed 78 miners. “It’s very emotional, very powerful, very awful, and finally very Appalachian,” Sen. Rockefeller told Maddow. He concluded:

Of all the glory of West Virginia characteristics of fighting and climbing hills all the time, this is the tragic part.

Watch the interview:

This tragedy is the latest deadly disaster to involve coal baron Don Blankenship’s Massey Energy. In 2006, two miners died in a fire at Aracoma Mine after Blankenship personally waived company policy and told mine managers to ignore rules and “run coal.” “In the past year, federal inspectors have cited Massey and fined the company more than $382,000 for repeated serious safety violations involving its ventilation plan and equipment at the mine run by subsidiary Performance Coal Co.,” the Associated Press reported. “The violations also cover failing to follow the ventilation plan, allowing combustible coal dust to pile up, and having improper firefighting equipment.”

As of 7:12 AM, Tuesday: The Associated Press reports that the death toll is now twenty-five:

It is the most people killed in a U.S. mine since 1984, when 27 died in a fire at Emery Mining Corp.’s mine in Orangeville, Utah. If the four missing bring the total to 29, it would be the most killed in a U.S. mine since a 1970 explosion killed 38 at Finley Coal Co., in Hyden, Ky.

17 Responses to 25 dead, 4 missing in Massey coal mine disaster

  1. Chris Dudley says:

    Interestingly, this come on the heels of news that the Mine Safety and Health Administration can’t be bothered to train its inspectors. It seems as though the quarter million dollars the President accepted from the coal lobby for his campaign has him completely on the hook. He ignores the science on MTR and revived a carbon capture and sequestration project that even the prior administration saw as too corrupt to continue. Now mine safety is sabotaged for a year with not action under his watch. No hope in that I think.

  2. Herman Leben says:

    Apparently this administration and OSHA are asleep. I will not blame them and I will not blame them for deaths by wind turbines. It is clear we are not setting safety standards and records for the Chinese to follow. Surface mines do not have these problems.

  3. Leif says:

    I apologies for the risk of sounding callous at this time of grief for so many, but I would point out that compared to the death and suffering that has and will be caused by continued fossil fuel exploitation around the world ____?

  4. James Newberry says:

    Natural environment and human mayhem in WV. God bless the mine workers and their families.

    A report on explosive gas said two million cubic feet of methane are released each day in this one mine. A killer for miners and earth’s climate. Nice to know we have condolences from enabling politicians who subsidize coal with billions of dollars per year, allow corruption of local democratic process and enable criminal lack of regulations.

    Considering this and a hundred other ongoing tragedies (tanker on Great Barrier Reef, deforestation in WV and Canada, two 1000 sq. mi. icebergs in the Southern Ocean, explosion at Kleen Energy plant in Connecticut) is it time for sustainable energy yet? Or is it one percent for clean energy strategies (“smart growth” transit oriented development, organic family farming, building retrofits, solar, etc.) and 99% federal support for dirty (coal, oil, mined methane and uranium)? The US economic (and corporate political) tragedy continues.

  5. Eve says:

    These men should have had jobs making solar panels or renovating homes to make them energy efficient – besides reducing global warming and pollution its a lot less risky work.

    When will we (humankind) ever learn?

  6. Anne says:

    So much to say about this — it’s so egregious — the devaluing of human life when king coal is involved. Can anyone imagine what sort of social outburst (holy hell) would erupt if the headline read:

    “Wind Turbine kills wind company employee

    An engineer repairing a wind turbine was killed yesterday when he apparently sustained an electric shock and fell 50 yards to the ground.”


    It makes me cringe that environmental organizations fight wind farms going up in West Virginia because the birds have been known to surf the wind and accidentally get chopped in the blades — even though many more birds fly smack into buildings and meet the same fate. So — to save a few birds, we don’t erect turbines, but then massively sized ecosystems are sacrificed (killing not just birds, but fish too and other critters — and we sacrifice human beings for the cause. 25 of them in one fell swoop. It’s just pure and utter insanity, it’s inhumane, and it’s morally and ethically wrong. The fact that it is also economically wrong adds to the weight of the argument. To help ensure that these coal miners didn’t die in vain (seriously, really, no pun intended, that would be so wrong), our entire coal-based energy economy needs to be reexamined, and people like Don Blankenship shouldn’t just be fined for violations over and over again, he should go to jail for manslaughter.
    I am so not kidding about that.

    ~Anne aka “Earthfire”

    A local church sign shows community support for the coal miners involved in a Monday explosion at Massey Energy Co.’s sprawling Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va. Tuesday, April 6, 2010. (AP / Bob Bird)

  7. Anne says:

    I forgot to finish the thought — does anyone else appreciate the strange irony in the name of the photographer who took this photo? Do we dare suspect that the senile Senator is moonlighting as a photo journalist?

    Goes in the category of news of the weird.

    “A local church sign shows community support for the coal miners involved in a Monday explosion at Massey Energy Co.’s sprawling Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va. Tuesday, April 6, 2010. (AP / Bob Bird)”

  8. Mark says:

    I predict Blankenship will spin it this way: “If you would let me expand MTR I wouldn’t have to put men down in those unresolvably dangerous mines.”

    Or words to that effect with more cussing and fewer syllables.

  9. Lou Grinzo says:

    Aside from expressing sympathy for the friends and family of those killed or injured in this latest coal tragedy, I have two specific thoughts:

    How long before we come to realize that James Hansen’s famous remark likening trains full of coal headed to power plants and trains taking innocent people to their death during the Holocaust was not as over-the-top as many claimed at the time?

    If anyone here hasn’t read Jeff Goodell’s “must read” book, Big Coal, what are you waiting for? Even if you already know that “coal is evil”, you’ll likely learn quite a bit from Big Coal. I certainly did.

  10. Mark Shapiro says:

    Coal miners are special. (Just watch any movie featuring miners.) Let’s train them to harvest energy from the wind and sun.

    Coal is beautiful. Leave it in the ground where it belongs.

  11. Raleigh Latham says:

    It is a sad day when Chinese mine workers have greater safety than American ones, let’s not forget to focus on the person who ignored these safety violations, Don Blankenship. He is the face of this disaster, and he should be recognized as such. Not only is he an enemy to America’s environment, he is an enemy to his own workers.

    This is the face that should always go with the reporting of the disaster:

  12. Carter says:

    One more argument for the cessation of coal burning.

  13. Anonymous says:

    (Chris Dudley) Please see this post regarding President Obama’s labor department and action on occupational safety and health:

    I think the President has quietly achieved a great deal in DOL.

    Please be aware that the cost of coal mining in China leaves the US cost in the dust, so to speak. The official fatality rate in China is much higher than here. There was a good article on this topic today, but I apologize, I can’t remember right now where I saw the article.

    The problem in Chinese mines is large in part because the nation is so large, in addition to their need for coal energy. I suspect that world-wide coal mine deaths continue to be poorly reported, but large.

    The human cost of coal mining is significant, but relatively poorly documented.

  14. Jennifer Neely says:

    “Government-mandated fuel economy standards are deadly,” said Sam Kazman, CEI General Counsel. “NHTSA had previously projected, in the original proposal, an additional 400 deaths annually due to these standards. If a consumer product killed a tenth as many people, it would be banned outright. But because CAFE is a government policy, not only will it not be banned, it’s going to be made even deadlier.”

    Our EPA is asking us to buy deadly tiny autos. Let me see by this time tomorrow how many call for the director of the EPA to be punished like the CEO of Massey Coal.
    Actually if my post is deleted, it will tell us that coal opposition to coal is an emotional problem and not really a human safety issue.

  15. Chris Dudley says:


    The prior administration’s high record for coal mining deaths in a year was 47 in 2006. This administration, with its extraction friendly policies, is well on the way to breaking that record this year. We may see a reversion to problems as bad as when Ray Donovan was Secretary of Labor.

    Not too sure why you bring up China. We used to have improving mine safety, now we don’t. That is owing to a lack of leadership in the presidency. That is just how the law works. The president is ultimately responsible for these deaths because his administration is responsible for mine safety. The mine could have been shut down. It wasn’t. When you’ve accepted a quarter million dollars in coal money, it looks as though it is hard to make the right decision.

  16. Chris Dudley says:

    I read whining on ABC that mine owners are tying up the enforcement system with appeals but this sounds like excuses to me. President Obama had huge resources with the stimulus money to get silicon refineries built in towns with mines with a poor safety record. He could have provided better jobs and shut those mines down. Instead he is funding clean coal boondoggles. The pro-extraction policies of this administration are killing people.

  17. bigtimej says:

    charge the coal miners owners criminally