Federal inspectors have found more than 60 serious safety violations at Massey Energy operations since the explosion that killed 29 miners at the company's Upper Big Branch mine, federal mine safety records show.
Inspectors visited more than 30 underground Massey mines in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia after the April 5 blast, according to records from the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The agency has tentatively blamed preventable accumulations of explosive methane gas and coal dust for the worst U.S. coal mining disaster since 1970.
The Associated Press tallied the violations as of Thursday by checking inspection records for all of the company's approximately 70 underground mines in the U.S. While mines operated by other companies were inspected during the same period, MSHA did not immediately comment about whether it was spreading the checks evenly among operators or targeting Massey.
The violations include conveyer belt problems at Massey's Aracoma Alma No. 1 mine in West Virginia, where a belt fire killed two men in 2006. The company's Solid Energy No. 1 mine in Kentucky was cited for allowing coal dust to pile up on three occasions since the explosion. Massey's Mammoth No. 2 Gas mine near Charleston was cited after a spot MSHA check turned up a crew without a methane monitor April 7.
Mines are required to keep methane well below explosive levels with sophisticated ventilation systems and control coal dust by keeping it from piling up and covering it with noncombustible material.
Massey had no immediate response Friday.
The West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training started its own safety sweep of the state's nearly 200 underground mines Friday. Administrator Terry Farley declined to say whether the agency is targeting Massey.
"We don't want 'em to know we're going to be there today," he said.
Inspectors are starting with mines known to produce high volumes of methane and past violations involving rock dusting, ventilation and electrical equipment, Farley said.
Since operators know the state is coming sometime in the next week or two, Farley said he hopes they've addressed significant problems.
MSHA issued the citations while conducting spot checks and routine inspections at the Massey operations.
Agency records show the problems were not universal; several Massey mines weren't cited at all after the inspections.
Among those that came up clean is Massey's Tiller No. 1 mine in Virginia. Federal inspectors had warned Massey to improve safety at the mine last fall or face heightened enforcement for a pattern of serious violations.
President Barack Obama has ordered a sweeping review of coal mines with poor safety records and called for stronger mining laws following the Upper Big Branch tragedy.
Mines in West Virginia have been asked to stop producing coal Friday and concentrate on safety in memory of the Upper Big Branch victims.
Separately, Massey said Friday it plans to issue its first-quarter financial results Wednesday afternoon. The explosion occurred in the second quarter.
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