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Massey Energy Co., owner of the mine where the worst accident in 40 years took place in April, failed another inspection following a surprise visit on September 28 by federal regulators.

Officials with the Mine Safety and Health Administration found numerous violations that could have caused an explosion at the Seng Creek Powellton Mine, located about 40 miles south of Charleston, West Virginia, Miners were caught illegally cutting too deeply into a coal seam, while a foreman admitted to skipping mandatory tests for explosive gases. Inspectors also discovered ventilation curtains (designed to flush away dangerous gases) not in use near areas where coal was being cut.

On April 5, an explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia, killed 29 workers, making it the deadliest mining accident since 1970.

Only weeks after the accident, Massey was caught operating three other mines where safety rules were violated and miners had to be evacuated by federal inspectors.

The Sept. 28 inspection of the company’s Seng Creek Powellton Mine in Boone Country, W. Va., found that company managers had skipped mandatory tests for explosive gases and had failed to use ventilation curtains that filter out flammable chemicals to reduce the explosion risk.

“This week we mark the six-month anniversary of the devastating explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant Secretary of Labor for mine safety and health. “Rather than learn from this tragedy, there are mine operators that continue the ‘catch me if you can’ tactics, ignoring basic mining laws, and placing their workers at great risk of injury, illness and mine explosions.”

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A surprise inspection has turned up serious safety violations that could have caused an explosion at another Massey Energy Co. coal mine in West Virginia, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said Thursday.

Inspectors caught Massey illegally cutting too deeply into the coal seam at its Seng Creek Powellton Mine about 40 miles south of Charleston in Boone County, the agency said. A foreman also admitted skipping mandatory tests for explosive gases, and inspectors caught Massey cutting coal with ventilation curtains rolled up and left out of the way, MSHA said. The curtains help flush away methane and coal dust, which can ignite and cause explosions.

The Sept. 28 inspection is part of an agency crackdown launched after 29 miners died and two suffered serious injuries in an explosion at Massey's Upper Big Branch mine in nearby Raleigh County. The April explosion was the deadliest at a U.S. coal mine since 1970, and it remains the subject of criminal and civil investigations.

"This is a reflection of the problem that we have in this mining industry with some who, regardless of what you do, ignore the mine law," MSHA director Joe Main told The Associated Press. "What we found at Seng Creek, there is absolutely no justification to be operating a mine in this condition."

Massey agreed.

"This situation was very frustrating and totally unacceptable," Massey spokesman Jeff Gillenwater said in an e-mail. "We appreciate MSHA's blitz for uncovering conduct that we did not uncover ourselves."

However, Main said it's up to mine operators to comply with the law.

"There is a problem here. First off it is the mine operator's responsibility to put in place a health and safety management program," Main said. "They went out of the way to engage in the conduct at that mine."

MSHA conducted the Seng Creek inspection after receiving an anonymous tip that Massey was making so-called deep cuts. The practice allows mines to cut larger quantities of coal without pausing to move ventilation equipment and install roof supports. The practice tends to generate more coal dust and requires prior approval from MSHA.

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Advertisement"It's a more productive means," Main said. "They were actually deep cutting and they didn't even take the time to put up the ventilation controls.

"Those things just don't happen, they're orchestrated."

Gillenwater said the president of Elk Run Coal, the subsidiary that operates Seng Creek, had told the mine's superintendent that Massey expects compliance with the law.

"The foreman in charge of the section was told the same thing by his superintendent right before he went underground the day of the violations," Gillenwater said. "This training was simply violated. We will redouble our efforts."

Gillenwater said Massey fired the foreman who allowed mining without ventilation curtain and two miners and suspended nine others for three days
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