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The New York Times this morning reports that a foreman at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine says miners were creating makeshift seals to block methane from being sucked from an abandoned shaft into the working sections of the mine. The Upper Big Branch mine exploded in early April, killing 29 miners, in a disaster thought to be caused by an accumulation of methane. The foreman said “rags and garbage were used to create a poor man’s sealant, which he said allowed methane to permeate the mine, displacing much needed oxygen,” according to Times reporters. “Every single day, the levels were double or triple what they were supposed to be,” said the foreman. “I have had guys come to me and cry,” said the veteran foreman. “Grown men cried — because they are scared.” The foreman said he wanted to remain anonymous “because speaking out is not acceptable in the culture of his company, Massey Energy.”
The Times also compares the safety records of Massey’s mine to a mine near Hazard, Kentucky, that also has high levels of methane gas.
Massey, meanwhile, has hired an Austin, Texas, public relations firm close to Bobby Ray Inman, the longest serving Massey board member. Public Strategies is a high powered PR firm whose vice chairman is Mark McKinnon, who worked on George Bush’s presidential campaigns. Inman is also a former dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. Yesterday, Inman released a statement saying the board still supported Don Blankenship, Massey’s CEO. The Charleston Gazette reported that several widows of miners who died in the explosion said miners were sent home days before the explosion because of “bad air,” which could mean an accumulation of methane gas.