MSHA holding public briefing Upper Big Branch Mine explosion investigation

Tina Grady Barbaccia

March 30, 2011

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) will hold a briefing on June 29 to publicly disseminate information gathered during the investigation of the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, W.Va.

The briefing will coincide with the one-year anniversary of the start of the underground investigation at the Upper Big Branch Mine and will be held at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beckley, W.Va. Although the underground investigation and interviews are still ongoing, MSHA investigators will be able to compile additional relevant evidence by June in order to provide a substantive presentation to the public.

MSHA already has shared information with the families of the victims through several meetings and has released information gathered during the course of the investigation on the agency’s “Upper Big Branch Mine-South Massey Energy Co. Single Source Page,” which may be viewed at

In June, MSHA says it intends to provide an overview of the physical evidence gathered in its investigation, as well as summaries of other evidence obtained by investigators. As has been the practice throughout this investigation, some information will remain confidential in light of the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice criminal investigation and requests by federal prosecutors to MSHA to limit the public release of evidence relevant to potential prosecutions. President Obama has instructed both agencies to conduct thorough investigations into the tragedy and to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.

“We take very seriously the need to keep the public informed as to what we’re learning and when we’re learning it,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, in a March 29 written press statement. “We also take seriously the efforts of the FBI and the U.S. attorney to bring to justice those who may have broken the law. Throughout this investigation, we’ve worked hard to balance those important goals.”

Since the passage of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, MSHA has conducted investigations in all fatality cases to determine the cause, identify any violations and assess penalties. There have been about 4,000 fatalities since 1977.

Throughout the years, it has been the general practice of MSHA to include records and information developed during the investigation with the release of the final investigation report.

However, the current investigation into the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion and the inquiry into the 2006 Sago Mine disaster are among the few examples in which MSHA records have been released as the investigation has progressed, and the Upper Big Branch Mine investigation has been one of the most transparent in MSHA’s history.

MSHA says will continue to make publicly available relevant information that will not compromise MSHA‘s investigation or the ongoing criminal investigation.

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