(03/31/2006)
The mine wars in WV are now fought in the halls of the state capitol, dozens of other agencies and the courts.

Massey Energy Co. violated state electrical safety rules dozens of times at its Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine.

Now, it has been learned that state inspectors did not discover the problems until after two miners died in a January fire following a conveyor belt blaze.

Inspectors had not looked at the electrical system in the Massey mine for two years prior to the deaths.

State electricians are required to inspect each state mine at least once each year.

The Aracoma mine had no such inspections in 2004 or 2005.

State officials could not immediately say how many other West Virginia mines had not received required electrical inspections.

In 2004, the state had 315 underground coal mines. They reported conducting 137 electrical inspections.

Electrical problems were the single largest source of mine safety violations.

Meanwhile, International Coal Group announced that a lightning strike sparked the January 2 explosion that killed 12 workers and seriously injured another at its Sago Mine.

The company is essentially blaming the accident on nature - an Act of God, but not as overtly as Pittson Coal did following the deaths of 125 people during the Buffalo Creek flood in 1972. Nonetheless, that's what it means.

The conclusion is interesting because no one can say how electricity from the lightning penetrated two miles underground to the gas-filled chamber that exploded.

Investigators for both the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration and the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training are more curious than the coal company.

President and CEO Ben Hatfield talked as if the matter is resolved.

"We are pleased that we can get our Sago employees back to work with the knowledge that the explosion was an unpredictable and highly unusual accident," said a press release.


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