West Virginia moves to revoke Upper Big Branch foreman’s certificate

In the first action to revoke the mining credentials of an Upper Big Branch employee, the West Virginia Coal Mine Safety Board of Appeals has scheduled a May 15 hearing between the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training and Jeremy L. Burghduff.

MHST accuses Burghduff, an assistant underground mine foreman at the now-shut Raleigh County mine, on two charges of failing to follow proper mine safety procedures and violating West Virginia mine safety code, according to the order entered March 15 by Clinton Smith, chairman of the appeals board.

MHST’s charges stem from its investigation into the April 5, 2010, underground explosion at Upper Big Branch, then owned by Massey Energy. Twenty-nine miners died in the deadliest US coal mine accident in 40 years.

Alpha Natural Resources, which acquired Massey in June 2011, announced last week, on the second anniversary of the explosion, that the mine would be permanently sealed. The metallurgical operation had remained shut since the accident.

“As a result of the state’s investigation into the UBB disaster, the OMHS&T issued one Withdrawal of Certification,” agency spokeswoman Leslie Fitzwater said in a Thursday email. “If findings in [the] ongoing federal criminal investigations into UBB bring to light the need for additional action, the OMHS&T will pursue Withdrawal of Certification or other actions as needed.”

Asked whether MHST had other certification withdrawal petitions pending, Fitzwater replied, “There were three Individual Personal Assessments made [in the MHST accident report released February 23], which … differ from Withdrawal of Certification.”

She further noted, “The one withdrawal case, Mr. Burghduff’s, is the only Withdrawal of Certification to result from the state’s investigation.”

In the petition, MHST Director C.A. Phillips said that, during the course of the UBB accident probe, investigators found that “Burghduff failed to properly examine the air courses for accumulation of methane and oxygen deficiency during weekly examinations of areas assigned to him.”

Four different reports on the accident, including MHST’s, found that the mine operator, Massey subsidiary Performance Coal, allowed buildup of explosive coal dust, and a buildup of methane, once ignited at the mine face, combined with the coal dust to result in what should have been a localized fire to spread into a massive explosion throughout mine passageways.

Also, according to the petition, during the course of the investigation, MHST investigators found that from January through April 5, 2010, Burghduff failed to wear his self-contained self-rescuer apparatus in performing various duties underground.

Alpha representatives did not respond to requests for comment Thursday about Burghduff’s current employment status.


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