Massey says air samples taken before the mine blast were normal

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Richmond-based Massey Energy Co. says that air samples taken minutes before the deadly explosion at its Upper Mine Branch in West Virginia were normal.

Stan Suboleski, a member of Massey’s board of directors, said “zero to nearly zero” methane and no hazards were found in the air samples taken before the explosion that killed 29 miners.

Massey officials defended the company’s safety record at a press conference on Monday. Suboleski said Massey is conducting its own proble into the cause of the explosion as well as cooperating with federal and state investigators .

Today the U.S. Senate will hold a hearing on mine safety, but no officials or representatives from Massey are scheduled to be witnesses.

Massey also defended its safety record in a letter to shareholders.

“Clearly, something went wrong at UBB. But we simply don’t yet know what it was. If there was improper conduct regarding operations and safety, there will be accountability. What we do know is this: Accusations that Massey Energy is indifferent to safety could not be more wrong,” Massey said in its statement to shareholders.

The company says that the UBB branch had a number of safety violations similar to other mines in the Appalachian region. The company acknowledged that the mine had a higher number of D orders, the most serious violations.  It had 47 D orders from April through October last year.  The mine had recently reduced this rate, receiving seven D orders this year, between January and April 4, the day before the mine explosion.

The company says it changed the ventilation system on the mine’s longwall after September based on a request from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. Massey says the new ventilation system was more complex, reduced the volume of fresh air available and Massey engineers resisted the plan, shutting down production for two days once before complying with MHSA.

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