On December 6, US Attorney Booth Goodwin announced that the federal government and Alpha Natural Resources have reached a settlement in the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, including $210 million in fines and required safety improvements.

Alpha Natural Resources purchased Massey Energy last year and in the process assumed liability for the 29 deaths and other damages caused by the April 5, 2010 explosion in Upper Big Branch Mine.  The settlement also will allow for prosecution of individuals who are found personally responsible for the disaster.

AFSC’s Beth Spence served on the independent commission, formed by former Gov. Joe Manchin, which investigated the disaster over nine months. The commission found that Massey Energy had been reckless, amassing hundreds of safety violations in the mine prior to the explosion. They also found that the disaster itself was not only preventable, but made far worse by a series of failed safety systems that should have limited the scope of the initial explosion.

Part of the $210 million settlement includes payments to bring new and better safety technologies into Alpha mines. These technologies will likely include some recommended by the independent commission like digital airflow monitors and real time dust monitoring.  Other improvements will hopefully include some that are still under development.

While AFSC is pleased that this initial settlement is a big step in the right direction, there is still more to be done. Beth Spence is now working with the Wheeling Jesuit University (WJU) on a safety training manual to assist mine rescue workers, one part of a larger underground training program that WJU is developing in conjunction with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.  In addition the community is crying out for criminal charges to be filed against Massey officials for the reckless behavior and the deaths they caused.

Learn more about AFSC’s role in the Independent Commission Report.

Read regular updates on Mine Issues from the Coal Tattoo blog

Media Reports on the settlement with Alpha Natural Resources: