Following is a statement from Massey Energy spokesman Jeff Gillenwater in response to an NPR investigation finding that an electrician was ordered to disable a methane detector at the West Virginia's Upper Big Branch coal mine two months before an explosion killed 29 mine workers.
Not having the full understanding of what you have been told or by whom, I will address what we are aware of.
We are aware that an incident may have occurred on February 13, 2010 in which a malfunctioning methane monitor was bypassed on a continuous miner in an outby area (not the coal producing face) of the mine that was cutting rock for a belt head. In the process of cutting, the methane monitor became damaged and therefore shut the machine down.
The supervisor did not order an electrician to bridge a methane monitor on a continuous miner "to keep the mining machine from shutting off while operating." The methane monitor was bypassed in order to move the miner from the area that did not have roof support to a safer area for repair.
In fact, newer continuous miners have a "methane monitor malfunction override" system that was designed by Massey Energy and MSHA, that allows the miner's hydraulics and tram motors to be re-energized from the miner operator's remote when the methane monitor malfunctions. This system was developed because in the past, miners had been injured or killed while working on equipment in unsupported top.
On 10/01/09, MSHA issued Program Information Bulletin No. P09-35 - Continuous Mining Machine Safety Features.
The purpose of the bulletin states:
• "Some continuous mining machines have been designed with safety design features that could help reduce the number of accidents…".
• "The Methane Monitor Failure Override is approved on certain models of continuous mining machines. When the machine's circuitry detects a methane monitor system malfunction, the machine will automatically shut down and the operator will be informed of the malfunction. The continuous mining machine operator then has the ability to engage the override system and tram the machine back to supported roof for repair."
• "The features are engineered such that the disabled machine can be safely trammed from unsupported roof areas so the methane monitor system can be repaired and other functions such as cutting or conveying circuits can be re-energized"
Massey strongly forbids any improper conduct relating to any and all safety devices designed to protect the health and safety of company members. Such actions never have been nor ever will be tolerated by Massey and contradict the Company's commitment to doing its part to safeguard miners from foreseeable harm.
If additional claims of wrongdoing are raised during this investigation, Massey will fully investigate those matters and take appropriate action.