Don L. Blankenship, former Massey Energy Company chairman and CEO

Massey, MSHA to Reenter Upper Big Branch Mine

This entry, the first since the explosion killed 29 miners on April 5, will monitor air quality inside the mine.

For the first time since the April 5 explosion inside the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 miners, representatives of Massey Energy Company, MSHA, and the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety & Training plan to reenter the mine on June 2. Reentry has not been possible since the blast because of gases from fires in the coal mine, MSHA has said.

Massey announced that a 16-member group will enter the mine. This initial reentry "will focus on monitoring the quantity and quality of the air in various locations underground," the announcement stated, and results of the monitoring will dictate when additional entries can be made. "We are pleased that the first step in the underground investigation is scheduled to begin," said Massey Chairman and CEO Don Blankenship. "We are eager to begin a thorough investigation into the root cause of the accident."

MSHA recently won a ruling in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia that upheld MSHA's plan to conduct private interviews as part of its investigation of the explosion. The United Mine Workers of America and the estates of two of the 29 miners had asked U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger on May 10 to prevent those interviews and to direct MSHA to conduct its accident investigation exclusively through public hearings. But on May 20, the court ruled federal law does not authorize the lawsuit.

"We hope that those who supported the lawsuit will come to realize that, ultimately, MSHA's overall investigation of the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion will be the most open and comprehensive investigation in the history of the agency," said Solicitor of Labor Patricia Smith. "People should understand that private interviews are an important part of our investigation, but they're not the only part."

MSHA has announced it will conduct public hearings and forums after the interviews and on-scene investigation are completed to discuss the possible causes of the explosion and identify strategies to prevent similar incidents.

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