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State seeks to strip UBB foreman of license

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State officials have identified the third Upper Big Branch Mine employee that they've taken action against for safety violations in their investigation of the April 5, 2010, explosion that killed 29 miners.

The state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training revealed it has sought to strip Jeremy Burghduff, a lower-level Upper Big Branch mine foreman, of his state license to work in that capacity.

State investigators allege that Burghduff had his methane detector turned off when he was supposed to be checking for explosive gas in key sections of the mine in late March and early April 2010, including on the day of the explosion.

They also allege that Burghduff violated state rules by not carrying his emergency breathing device with him underground at all times.

A hearing on the case is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. May 15 before the state Coal Mine Safety Board of Appeals.

In their Upper Big Branch probe, state inspectors also issued individual citations to mine foremen Terry Moore and Ricky Foster, alleging that they neglected to ensure coal-dust accumulations were cleaned up. They face potential fines of up to $250, officials said.

When state officials released their Upper Big Branch investigation report in late February, they also noted they were seeking to strip a third mine employee of his license, but did not immediately identify that person as Burghduff.

Allegations against Burghduff, though, had previously been made public. The independent investigation team led by Davitt McAteer outlined those allegations in its May 2011 report on the mine disaster.

The McAteer report concluded that disabling methane monitors and faking key tests for explosive gas had become a common practice at the Massey Energy operation in Raleigh County.

Among other things, the McAteer report quoted sworn testimony from a miner who worked with foreman Jeremy Burghduff, telling investigators he knew Burghduff hadn't completed safety checks in a key set of tunnels near the longwall mining section.

The McAteer report also said that investigators downloaded data from Burghduff's methane detector and discovered the device was not turned on during at least 25 of his work shifts between September 2009 and April 2010. Investigators also questioned whether air-flow readings listed by Burghduff on official safety reports could possibly have been accurate, because readings taken over a matter of weeks varied so little from day to day.

"This data raises doubt about the daily and weekly air readings and other data recorded by the crew foreman in the weeks leading up to the disaster," the McAteer report said. "Accurate air readings and water levels in those key ventilation entries would provide a valuable history of conditions in a critical part of the mine in the days and weeks just prior to the explosion."

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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