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There is again more news from the site of the mine explosion at the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. On August 9, investigators confirmed that the methane monitors at the scene of the April 5 mine explosion had not been tampered with.
The methane monitors were taken from what is known as a longwall mining machine. The monitors are designed to shut down the mining machines when they detect levels of methane gas that could be explosive, according to a report by the Associated Press. The investigation followed claims by Massey employees that the monitors were sometimes rigged to keep running despite high readings.
The tests took place at MSHA facility. The AP reports that State Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training chief Ron Wooten said the latest tests showed the monitors "had not been tampered with electronically." Wooten also noted that according to the machine's black box data, it had shut down less than two minutes before the explosion, although he declined to find that an issue for concern. "It could have been because it was the end of the shift. It could have been a problem that they encountered," Wooten said. "I wouldn't read anything in to that."
Company representatives were pleased by the outcome of the testing. Shane Harvey, Massey's vice president and general counsel, said the tests verified "these sensors were in working condition and capable of automatically shutting down the longwall in the event that methane readings exceeded safety thresholds."
However, Massey Energy is far from out of the woods. There also have been claims circulating, according to the AP, that bags were often placed over the monitors to alter the readings. The results of this investigation do not prove or disprove these claims. A spokeswoman for MSHA, Amy Louviere, said the tampering investigation was on-going.
Massey spokesman Jeff Gillenwater discounted any claims of tampering. If there had been proof, the company would have been cited by MSHA, he said. The MSHA has the responsibility for oversight of safety in the nation's mines. However, the process for safety violations can be quite drawn out. As noted in a previous post, in the year before the blast, Massey had been cited and appealed the citations hundreds of times.
The full investigation at the Upper Big Branch explosion is far from complete. It may be sometime next year before investigators are ready to identify an official cause of the explosion that killed twenty-nine men.