UBB explosion agreement results in record penalties

Charleston, WV – Massey Energy’s new owner agreed to pay an unprecedented $209 million in civil and criminal penalties related to the April 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine-South. The blast killed 29 miners.

Announced Dec. 6, the agreement among Alpha Natural Resources and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia and the Department of Justice includes $46.5 million for the victims' families and $80 million for mine safety measures. The agreement precludes criminal prosecution of Alpha but not individual employees.

The same day, the Mine Safety and Health Administration issued the largest fine in the agency’s history – $10.8 million – to Alpha based on its own investigation. MSHA cited corporate culture as the root cause for the explosion and issued a total of 369 citations, including 12 for violations contributing to the incident.

Echoing the May report (large .pdf file) from the Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel, MSHA found that the explosion started as a small methane ignition and was fed by excessive coal dust.

“Today’s report brings to light the tragic consequences of a corporate culture that values production over people,” MSHA Administrator Joseph A. Main said in a press release.

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