Alpha Natural Resources Inc. and Department of Justice Reach $209 Million Agreement Related to Upper Big Branch Mine Explosion
Alpha Natural Resources Inc. has agreed to make payments and safety investments totaling $209 million in connection with the criminal investigation of the April 5, 2010, explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine (UBB) in Montcoal, W.Va., announced Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney R. Booth Goodwin II for the District of West Virginia and officials with the FBI and Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General.
The explosion at the UBB mine 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, whose operations came under Alpha’s control in a June 1, 2011, merger.
“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,” said Attorney General Holder. “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.”
“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. That mindset is unacceptable,” said U.S. Attorney Goodwin. “Collectively, these requirements will set a new standard for what can and should be done to protect miners. We look forward to a future in which coal mining is as safe as any other occupation.”
As part of the non-prosecution agreement, Alpha will invest at least $80 million in mine safety improvements at all of its underground mines, including those formerly owned by Massey. Alpha will also place $48 million in a mine health and safety research trust, to be used to fund academic and non-profit research that will advance efforts to enhance mine safety. In addition, the company will pay restitution of $1.5 million to each of the families of the 29 miners who died at UBB and to the two individuals who were injured, for a total restitution payment of $46.5 million. Alpha also will pay a total of up to $34.8 million in penalties owed to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), including all penalties that arise from the UBB accident investigation.
The remedial safety measures included in the agreement include the following:
Installation of digital monitoring systems in all its underground mines to continuously monitor compliance with ventilation requirements and to ensure mines are free of potentially explosive methane gas;
Implementation of 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;
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;
Purchase next-generation rock dusting equipment (pending MSHA approval), further enhancing its ability to combat explosion hazards;
Installation of oxygen cascading systems to help miners make their way to safety if a serious accident should occur; and
Building of a state-of-the-art training facility and implementation of a full training curriculum to train Alpha miners, which will be available to other mining companies.
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.