FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Dec. 6, 2011
UNITED STATES ATTORNEY’S OFFICE ANNOUNCES $209 MILLION
AGREEMENT IN UPPER BIG BRANCH MINE EXPLOSION
Largest-Ever Criminal Resolution In a Mining Investigation
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – U.S. Attorney R. Booth Goodwin II, joined by officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General, today announced a non-prosecution agreement under which Alpha Natural Resources Inc. (Alpha) will make payments and safety investments totaling $209 million in connection with the criminal investigation of events surrounding the April 5, 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine (UBB). That explosion claimed the lives of 29 coal miners and injured two others. At the time of the explosion, the mine was owned by Massey Energy Company (Massey), whose operations came under Alpha’s control in a June 1, 2011 merger.
The agreement announced today is the largest-ever resolution in a criminal investigation of a mine disaster. It addresses only the corporate criminal liability of the former Massey, not potential criminal charges for any individual. The criminal investigation of individuals associated with Massey remains ongoing. Alpha has cooperated with the federal criminal investigation since the merger, in addition to implementing a number of safety improvements.
Under the resolution announced today, Alpha will invest at least $80 million in groundbreaking mine safety enhancements at all its underground mines, including those formerly owned by Massey. Alpha also will place $48 million in a mine health and safety research trust, to be used to fund academic and non-profit research that will advance the state of the art in mine safety. In addition, the company will make restitution of a total of $46.5 million ($1.5 million each) to the families of the 29 miners who were lost at UBB and to the two individuals who were injured. Moreover, Alpha will pay in full all penalties owed to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), including all penalties that arise from the UBB accident investigation, for a total of up to $34.8 million.
The remedial safety measures included in the agreement include the following:
- Alpha will install digital monitoring systems in all its underground mines to continuously monitor compliance with ventilation requirements and make sure mines are free of potentially explosive methane gas.
- In another measure designed to prevent future mine explosions, Alpha will implement a plan to ensure that each of its underground mines has the personnel and resources necessary to meet all legal requirements concerning incombustible material and accumulations of coal dust and loose coal.
- Alpha will purchase state-of-the-art equipment to monitor its mines for explosive concentrations of coal dust and use that equipment in all its underground mines.
- Alpha will purchase next-generation rock dusting equipment (pending MSHA approval), further enhancing its ability to combat explosion hazards.
- Alpha will install cutting-edge oxygen cascading systems to help miners make their way to safety if a serious accident should occur in an Alpha mine.
- Alpha also will build a state-of-the-art training facility and implement a full training curriculum. The facility will be used to train Alpha miners and also will be available to other mining companies.
“The tragedy at Upper Big Branch will never be forgotten, and the families affected by it will never be made completely whole again. Today’s agreement represents the largest-ever resolution in a criminal investigation of a mine disaster and will ensure appropriate steps are taken to improve mine safety now and will fund research to enhance mine safety in the future,” Attorney General Holder said. “While we continue to investigate individuals associated with this tragedy, this historic agreement - one of the largest payments ever for workplace safety crimes of any type - will help to create safer work environments for miners in West Virginia and across the country.”
“Collectively, these requirements will set a new standard for what can and should be done to protect miners,” Goodwin said. “My hope is Alpha’s adoption of the measures contained in this resolution will give the rest of the industry a strong push to follow suit.”
“The research and development component of this agreement holds the promise of breakthroughs that will transform mine safety in the coming decades,” Goodwin continued. “The fund announced today will jump-start innovation and put brilliant minds to work on the risks that coal miners face. We look forward to a future in which coal mining is as safe as any other occupation.”
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said, “There should never be another UBB, and this announcement is aimed squarely at that goal. For far too long, we've accepted the idea that catastrophic accidents are an inherent risk of being a coal miner. It’s long past time we put that myth to rest. We believe that this agreement does that.”
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