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MSHA Targets 43 Former Massey Mines in Huge Inspection Blitz

The Mine Safety and Health Administration targeted 43 mines formerly owned by Massey Energy for surprise inspections this week, as NPR’s Howard Berkes reports. The mines, in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, are all now owned by Alpha Natural Resources.

Berkes reports that the inspection blitz was prompted by a recent incident at an Alpha mine in Wyoming County, WV.

A source familiar with the inspections says they were focused on conveyor belts used to transport coal underground. The source is not authorized to discuss the inspections publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

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Union Report on Upper Big Branch Explosion Faults Massey Energy, Suggests Evidence Tampering

The United Mine Workers union has released its own report into last year’s deadly explosion at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch Mine. The report is highly critical of the way non-union Massey Energy handled the disaster.

The explosion killed 29 workers, and the title of the report instantly gives a sense of how the United Mine Workers of America views the disaster: it’s called Industrial Homicide.

After the blast, the UMWA was designated an official representative of coal miners in the non-union mine. In the report, the union predictably criticizes Massey Energy, saying equipment wasn’t well-maintained and safely operated. It also faults federal regulators for not shutting the mine down.

But the report does contain two new pieces of evidence about the explosion, which evidence suggests was caused by a methane ignition fed by coal dust. The UMWA report notes the specific placement of a curtain in the mine, which could have directed fresh air directly to a methane monitor. This would have prevented the monitor from detecting unsafe levels of methane and shutting down equipment.

It also mentions the presence of a clean, undamaged methane sensor from an area damaged by the blast. The report implies the sensor could have been planted after the explosion by Massey officials who were underground at the time.

Massey Energy was sold to Alpha Natural Resources earlier this year.

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Southern States Energy Board Meets in Virginia

The Southern States Energy Board held a Governor’s Energy Summit in Virginia this morning. Kentucky is a member of the board, and was represented by Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Len Peters.

In the board’s mission statement, it stresses both the economy and environment, but there was no evidence of the latter in the day’s agenda. The only speakers were politicians and industry representatives, and the issues covered ranged from nuclear energy to oil and gas production to the economic effects of pending federal pollution rules.

The panel is about the potential effects of pending rules from the Environmental Protection Agency was led by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and Kevin Crutchfield of Alpha Natural Resources. The conversation was billed as being about how much money the new rules and regulations will cost states. In the past, the EPA has stressed the cost of inaction, and says the pending rules will save money and create jobs in the long run.

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MSHA Cites Three Kentucky Mines in July Impact Inspections

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has cited three Kentucky mines for safety violations—two of the mines are in Harlan County and one is in Pike County. Those mines are among 15 nationwide with a history of compliance problems that were targeted in MSHA’s July impact inspections.

Two of the Kentucky mines inspected are owned by Alpha Natural Resources, and both were previously owned by Massey Energy, before Alpha bought the company in June.

MSHA began the special impact inspections in response to the explosion at the Massey-owned Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, which killed twenty-nine miners. Since then, the agency says it’s conducted more than 300 impact inspections, which have resulted in more than 5,500 citations.

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Alpha CEO Calls Coal’s Future “Bright”

Alpha Natural Resource’s CEO says his company’s acquisition of Massey Energy improves the company’s position in the international market.

Kevin Crutchfield said Massey’s vast metallurgical coal reserves were one reason the merger made sense for Alpha. During an interview with West Virginia MetroNews, he said he also expects to be providing coal for electricity to developing nations.

“The prospects we think for coal internationally over the next twenty years, both for the manufacture of steel and the production of electricity are quite bright,” he said. “We think that the demand for coal on a worldwide basis is going to increase between 2 and 2 and a half billion tons annually over the next twenty years.”

Crutchfield thinks his company is in a good position to provide coal to overseas markets, even if the United States moves away from coal-fired electricity.

“Despite our nation’s seeming resistance to continuing to burn coal, there are plenty of places on the globe that do want to power and electrify their nations with coal,” he said. “We think the asset position we have will put us in a nice position to serve those needs over the long term.”

With the merger, Alpha now controls five billion tons of coal reserves. 1.7 billion of that is metallurgical coal, which is in demand for steel production in developing countries.

In the interview Crutchfield also said he wasn’t yet sure what caused the explosion last April at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine. Federal investigators haven’t yet released their conclusions either.

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Alpha Dismisses Massey Energy’s Report on W.Va. Mine Explosion

Earlier today, Massey Energy’s former Chairman of the Board Bobby Inman released his company’s accounting of the causes behind the April 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine.  The Charleston Gazette has a link to the report. Basically, it discounts the report released last month by an independent team commissioned by former West Virginia governor Joe Manchin. That independent report placed a lot of the blame for the explosion on Massey, but Massey’s report supports the company’s claims that the accident was due to ‘an act of God.’

But Massey was acquired earlier this week by Alpha Natural Resources. And apparently Alpha was unaware Massey still planned on issuing their report.

In a news release from earlier today, Alpha has publicly slapped Massey on the wrist for their “unauthorized” release of the report:

“In Alpha’s view, a view it had expressed to Massey prior to the consummation of their merger, it was not appropriate to release any report purporting to contain Massey’s assessment of the cause of the Upper Big Branch explosion before Alpha had an opportunity to fully understand and assess the situation. “

The release also says that Alpha will be conducting its own investigation into the causes of the explosion, because it believes the families of the 29 miners who died are owed a final explanation of the disaster.

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Alpha Acquires Massey in $7 Billion Deal

Massey Energy is no more. A vote today by shareholders approved the coal company’s acquisition by Alpha Natural Resources. The $7.1 billion merger means Alpha now controls the second-largest coal reserves in the country. The company will also control more reserves of metallurgical coal, which is in demand overseas to make steel.

The new Alpha Natural Resources will operate more than 180 coal mines and processing plants throughout Appalachia and Wyoming.

Bill Bissett is the president of the Kentucky Coal Association, which counts both Massey and Alpha among its members. Bissett says the merger makes sense.

“We don’t expect any real major production changes,” he said. “I’d also suggest that the footprint of the two companies is somewhat similar, which makes the merger a little bit more of a likelihood for both companies to join together.”

Massey Energy has been under regulatory scrutiny since the explosion last year at the company’s Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. Twenty-nine miners died in the explosion, and an independent report released last month partially blamed the disaster on Massey’s lax safety culture. Shareholders raised concerns about the merger, citing Alpha’s plans to retain several key Massey executives who have been implicated in the explosion. According to NPR’s Howard Berkes, Alpha will not be hiring former Massey Chief Operating Officer Chris Adkins. Adkins was supposed to co-lead Alpha’s “Running Right” safety program, and was the most controversial of Alpha’s planned Massey hires.

Within a few hours of the shareholder vote, Massey’s website was already redirecting traffic to Alpha.


Alpha-Massey Merger Approved by Shareholders

Shareholders have approved an $8.5 billion merger between Massey Energy and Alpha Natural Resources. Alpha’s acquisition of Massey will make it the second-largest holder of coal reserves in America. We reported yesterday on some shareholder concerns about Alpha’s plans to retain several Massey executives who were in oversight positions during the April 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia.

Updated here.

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Wednesday Vote Scheduled on Massey-Alpha Coal Merger

Shareholders of Massey Energy and Alpha Natural Resources will vote Wednesday on a proposed merger.  If approved, the deal would make Alpha the world’s third largest producer of metallurgical coal. The company has said it intends to retain five Massey executives, all of whom were in leadership positions during the Upper Big Branch explosion last year in West Virginia.

The Change to Win Investment Group, which works with union pension funds, doesn’t oppose the merger but is pressing Alpha to rescind employment offers to the former Massey employees.

“Alpha needs to very clearly demonstrate that it is committed to fundamentally changing the way Massey did business,” said Per Olstad, CtW’s financial initiatives manager. “And by retaining these executives, they are very definitely not doing so.”

Badge Humphries is an attorney representing several shareholder groups that have pending lawsuits against the same executives, as well as two mine operators who headed the Massey subsidiary where the explosion occurred.

Humphries says Alpha’s move to hire those key players implies the company accepts Massey’s explanation of the disaster as an ‘act of God.’

“This merger with Alpha at this price, which we also allege is inadequate to compensate shareholders of Massey Energy, was also entered into to help these directors and officers escape liability,” he said.

Normally the claims would transfer from Massey to Alpha with the merger. But Humphries is concerned Alpha won’t honor the suits. He’s seeking an exception to allow his lawsuits to proceed against the Massey executives.

Both Massey and Alpha operate mines in Kentucky.