4 miners still missing after deadly explosion at W. Virginia coal mine operated by accident-plagued Massey Energy
The death toll in a West Virginia mining accident could climb to 29 as efforts to reach 4 more trapped miners at the Upper Big Branch South Mine near Whitesville, WV, were suspended early Tuesday morning because of unsafe conditions for rescue crews underground.
[Update w/ video 2:25 p.m. (EDT): Democracy NOW! and Fox News take different angles on the mining accident in West Virginia. Video below.]
Officials from Massey Energy Company, which runs the mine at Upper Big Branch South, said rescue operations were expected to resume as soon as conditions allow.
Don Blankenship, the chief executive officer of Massey Energy Co., said in a statement that the company is "working diligently on rescue efforts."
"Our prayers go out to the families of the miners," he said. "We want to assure the families of all the miners we are taking every action possible to locate and rescue those still missing."
The cause of the 3:30 p.m. explosion at Massey Energy's Performance Coal Co. mine is still not known but dangerously high levels of methane are often to blame for coalmine explosions such as these.
CNN is reporting that Blankenship told West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin that the mine was equipped with rescue chambers stocked with supplies like first-aid kits and oxygen tanks in the event of an emergency. The chambers were put in place after a series of mining disasters in 2006.
"We're very hopeful that the miners who are missing were able to make it to those rescue chambers," said Manchin, who was on his way to the site.
According to U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, there are nine rescue teams on-site, including teams from Massey Energy and the state of West Virginia. Until rescue operations were suspended early Tuesday morning, Mine Emergency Operations personnel from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration were accompanying the rescue teams underground.
"Our number one priority is to locate the missing miners and bring them to safety," said Secretary Solis.
West Virginia explosion yet another black mark for Massey
With 2.2 billion tons of coal reserves in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee, Massey Energy (NYSE: MEE) is the largest coal producer in Central Appalachia. But the company has also been beleaguered with safety and environmental violations.
In 2000, a Massey Energy coal slurry impoundment in Martin County, KY, burst and dumped over 300 million gallons of toxic sludge into nearby streams, in what was the largest-ever coal sludge spill in U.S. history.
In the spring of 2010, Massey was called out for 12,000 Clean Water Act violations over an 18-month span in 2008 and 2009. Amazingly, those allegations came soon after Massey paid $20 million in fines to the EPA for 60,000 separate Clean Water Act violations.
Massey's CEO Blankenship is not one to shy away from the public spotlight either -- especially when it comes to battling, "treehugging extremists."
In September 2009, Blankenship hosted a pro-coal, anti-labor, anti-environmentalist rally that was being held because "environmental extremists and corporate America are trying to destroy your jobs," Blankenship said at the time.
And this past January, Blankenship debated with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. about mountaintop removal mining, economic and environmental policy, and the science behind global warming.