The Massey Mystery

On Friday, Massey Energy Co. rejected federal government’s theory about the cause of the explosion at Upper Big Branch mine last spring in West Virginia that killed 29 workers. The blast in April 2010 was the worst U.S. mining disaster in 40 years.

Massey EnergyThe Richmond, Virginia-based coal company does not believe that worn shearer bits, broken water sprayers or excessive buildup of coal dust are to blame.

Massey insists there was a sudden inundation of natural gases from a fissure in the floor overwhelming the “good air flow and other controls that should have contained the blast.”

Federal investigators think the explosion started when teeth on the shearer created a spark igniting as few as 13 cubic feet of methane. They think coal dust mingled with the methane to create a stalwart blast turning 90-degree corners, rounded a 1,000-foot-wide block of coal and sent enough force to kill men further than a mile away.

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Abingdon, Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources Inc. is closing in on a deal to purchase Massey for about $7 billion in stock and cash.

MSHA’s preliminary findings suggest worn and broken equipment contributed to the initial fire and made it impossible to put out, while poor housekeeping allowed excessive amounts of explosive coal dust to accumulate.

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