4:24pm

Fri October 14, 2011
Environmental Watchdog

Kentucky Coal Mine Listed as "Unsafe"

A Kentucky coal mine has been flagged as unsafe by the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The Letcher County mine is the fourth recently placed on a ‘potential pattern of violations’ status. The mine is Dennis Creg Yonts’ Number Two Mine in Dean, operated by Vision Coal. Kevin Stricklin of MSHA says the notice amounts to a warning, of sorts.

“It’s a very stern warning,” he said. “And it gives them the opportunity—it’s kind of a last chance agreement—that they have the opportunity to do whatever it takes to get off the list and turn things around.”

If the mine doesn’t improve, it could be placed on a pattern of violations status, or POV. That tool is one that’s been historically underused by MSHA. Since the Mine Act became law in 1977, only two mines have ever been placed on the special status. A POV means that a mine will be temporarily shut down if any serious violations are found.

Since the deadly explosion last year at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, MSHA has also begun surprise impact inspections at mines with a history of violations. Stricklin says the agency is using both the impact inspections and the potential pattern of violations status as a tool.

“The more we do that, hopefully, the more we can convince mine operators to do it on their own rather than MSHA having to sneak into their mine and find these problems to get them corrected,” he said. “So we’re trying to do that both through talking to people as well as enforcing the law.”

MSHA placed the Letcher County mine on notice after an audit uncovered safety problems. Three other mines were also warned—all three are in West Virginia.