Who is to Blame for the Coal Mine Disaster in West Virginia and How Can Such Tragedies be Prevented?

On April 5, 25 coal miners died in an explosion at the Massey Energy Company’s Upper Branch South Mine in West Virginia.  This was the deadliest mining disaster the U.S. has experienced in 25 years. 

Coal mining is an extremely dangerous profession.  It always has been.  Removing coal from the ground is extremely difficult. But this disaster causes critical thinkers to ask, why does it have to be so dangerous?

One of the biggest dangers in mines is methane. This colorless, odorless gas is so flammable that it can explode with even the spark generated from a static charge a person might get walking across a carpet during the winter.  For this reason, miners are required to carry extra canister s of oxygen while they are underground.  All mine explosions are preventable, said Kevin Stricklin who is an administrator for the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Authorities will fully investigate what went wrong at the mine, but this particular mine has a history of safety violations.  According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration cited the mine for 1,342 safety violations over the past five years.  Massey Energy reportedly contested 422 of those violations, but paid $742,830 in fines.

The Associated Press reported that just last year “federal inspectors fined the company more than $382,000 for repeated serious violations involving its ventilation plan and equipment.”

CNN interviewed Rep. Nick Rahall (D-West Virginia) who said that the mine appears to be a “bad apple, there’s no question about it, because of the history of violations, including as late as March 30 of this year.”

There is now little hope that the four missing West Virginia coal miners will be rescued.  Rescuers first made it into the mine again early in morning on April 9.  But when they got within 1,000 feet of the second refuge chamber, it was poisoned with smoke.  Rescuers extinguished the fire and returned to the chamber and have not recovered any miners. 

While some continue to hold out hope that there will be survivors, the community is mourning the loss of seven men whose bodies have been recovered as their funerals are held. 

Why did this tragedy occur and how can disaster like these be prevented?

An April 9 article on The Huffington Post titled, Obama Administration Missed Chance to Get Tougher  On Unsafe Mines, attempts to assign some blame on a lack of government regulations.  It says, “Long before the explosion that killed at least 25 miners inside Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine on Monday, Obama administration mine safety officials were aware of a major loophole that allowed companies like Massey to avoid stricter enforcement despite alarming safety records.”

We must not forget the severity of this recent tragedy and honor its victims by tirelessly working to makes the mines safer for those that work there.

UPDATE: April 10, 2010 The bodies of the missing miners have been found.  According to CNN, West Virginian Gov. Joe Manchin said, “We did not receive the miracle we prayed for.”  He made that sad statement “after notifying grieving family members that officials found the bodies of four miners who had been missing after a coal mine explosion.”