The “MSHA VICTIMS” ad clarifies that both the Upper Big Branch (UBB) coal miners and ventilation experts (such as Bill Ross) knew that MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) was forcing a ventilation plan on UBB that was of concern. The ventilation plan that MSHA was adamant UBB use was a legal plan but it was not the best plan. The UBB mine had been using the belt entry for intake air for 17 years and the mine had experienced small gas ignitions before the fatal explosion, but none were catastrophic. The ignition on April 5, 2010 was catastrophic.

But it was not catastrophic because it ignited coal dust as MSHA claims. Nor were missing miner cutting bits or plugged water sprays contributing factors. Any mine at times has missing bits and plugged water sprays and if they caused explosions coal mines would explode almost daily. The key to avoiding a mine explosion is preventing the mine from having an explosive atmosphere. The key to doing that is a strong airflow and in the case of a longwall mine keeping pressure on the gob i.e. the mined out area of the longwall.

The UBB mine had used belt air for intake airflow for 17 years. MSHA ventilation specialist Joe Mackowiac who once worked for Massey was adamant that the mine no longer use belt air. He believed if intake air traveled up the belt it increased the risk of a belt fire spreading to the miners working in the face of the longwall. The use of belt air or not using belt air has been a debate within the industry for many years. However, in mines such as UBB, that have been in existence for years, you cannot ventilate the mine and keep pressure on the longwall gob area without belt air. This is so because long existing mines were designed to be dependent on belt air.

Bill Ross had worked for MSHA for 35 years and had been in charge of the MSHA ventilation oversight of UBB for several years. He knew and he explained to Mackowiac and Bob Hardman that UBB had experienced gas inundations in the past and that it was much safer for UBB to continuing using belt air. In fact, Bill testified that he begged Bob and Joe not to take the belt air away.

Bill also testified that he was told by his former MSHA secretary that Joe Mackowiac who had insisted that belt air no longer be used had carried trash bags of documents out of the MSHA office after the explosion. These documents are thought by many to be the documents that Ross himself had generated in his time at MSHA documenting that UBB was prone to gas inundations.

It should not be overlooked that MSHA and the US government claim that they have no emails between inspectors prior to or after the UBB explosion. Yet this Mackowiac email is clearly a an MSHA email. Also, we should not forget that Kevin Strickland sent an email to all district MSHA inspectors proclaiming after the explosion and before any investigation that “the operator blew up the mine MSHA didn’t”. In fact, Bill Ross testified that he himself always used email and so did the other inspectors while he was at MSHA.

It does not take much imagination to know what the US government would have done had I cut the airflow in half, said I had no emails, and my secretary was saying I destroyed UBB documents after the explosion.

The miners who died at UBB were the victims of MSHA’s desire to show the UBB mine managers who was in charge. The MSHA pompous attitude is demonstrated after each mine fatality as they blame the operator and the victim for every fatality. The agency’s “we are in charge” attitude is also on full display when they force coal miners to turn off their scrubbers. American mines will always be more dangerous so long as MSHA is allowed to tell operators it’s their way or the highway.

MSHA has to be divided into two separate agencies like the NTSB (National Transportation Board) and the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) is in the aviation industry. Until it is, American miners will die on the job at a higher rate than they otherwise would.