April 7th, 2010

Coal Mine Explosion, Montcoal, West Virginia

Posted at 4:56 PM ET

montcoalsmallAt least 25 workers were killed in an explosion at a coal mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, on April 5. Reports said the blast occurred towards the end of the afternoon at the underground mine run by Performance Coal Company, a subsidiary of Massey Energy. The explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine was the deadliest mining disaster in the United States since 1984, according to reports. In addition to the 25 fatalities, four miners are still missing and two others were hospitalised. A massive rescue operation was launched after the blast as emergency services rushed to the scene. However, the operation was suspended later because rising methane gas levels heightened the risk of another blast. The operation has since resumed, with rescuers drilling into the mine to release poisonous gases and ventilate the mine chamber.

Reports said the incident occurred around 15:00 local time (19:00 UTC) as miners were about to change shifts, with some exiting and others arriving. Reports said 61 miners were in the mine at the time of the explosion. West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin said the force of the blast bent and twisted rail lines and heavy equipment. Four miners remain unaccounted for and rescuers heard no signs of life as they continued to ventilate the mine.

Insurance Day said insurance claims from the explosion are likely to enter the London market and one of the factors in determining the size of the claim will be amount of time the mine is shutdown. Massey Energy has not indicated when it expects operations to resume at the mine. The cause of the blast has not yet been determined but the U.S. Mine and Safety Health Administration said investigators would leave “no stone unturned” to find out what happened.

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Massey Energy issued a statement on its website saying that it has a safety record that is above the national average, with three fatalities in the last 12 years. However, reports said federal inspectors have fined the company more than USD382,000 over the past year for violations involving its ventilation plan and equipment. In 2009, 34 miners were killed in accidents across the United States, according to federal data, 18 fewer than 2008. However, the death toll from the Montcoal explosion was the highest in a U.S. mine since 1984, when 27 people died in a fire at a mine owned by Emery Mining in Orangeville, Utah.

In a separate incident, an explosion and fire at a 120,000-barrel-a-day oil refinery killed five workers and critically injured two others on April 2. The blast struck the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, about 70 miles north of Seattle. The accident occurred while maintenance work was being performed and the fire was extinguished in about 90 minutes. Tesoro shut down one area of the Anacortes plant following the blaze and the refinery is currently running at 70 percent of its capacity. The cause of the fire has not yet been established but Tesoro said that it will conduct an internal investigation and several government agencies have also launched an inquiry. Reports said the incident was the deadliest refinery accident since an explosion at a BP refinery in Texas killed 15 people in 2005.

Sources: CNN News, Associated Press, Reuters News, Agence France Presse, BBC News, Insurance Day, Platts Commodity News

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