A proposal by troubled coal producer Massey Energy Co. to seal the West Virginia coal mine where 29 miners died in an explosion a year ago hit a snag Thursday.
Massey representatives met with a U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration regional official at the agency's academy in Beaver, but refused to discuss plans for sealing the Upper Big Branch mine in the presence of lawyers serving as miners' representatives, MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere said.
The mine located some 50 miles south of Charleston hasn't operated since the April 5, 2010 explosion. Last summer, Massey sought permission to build a new entrance and resume mining at Upper Big Branch, but said in October that MSHA had rejected the request.
The sealing plan submitted by the company to MSHA consists of a map depicting just a portion of the sprawling underground mine. Seals would be placed at two spots close to the surface, cutting off access from the outside. Massey hasn't explained why it wants to seal the mine, which contains significant reserves of high-priced coal suitable for making steel.
"We do have a desire to seal the UBB mine at some point, but need to work out the details with MSHA," general counsel Shane Harvey said. "We will provide further detail when we get a plan that all parties agree with."
Richmond, Va.-based Massey has struggled to recover from the explosion. It has lost money for the past four quarters amid strict enforcement of safety rules by MSHA and is weeks away from being acquired by Abingdon, Va.-based rival Alpha Natural Resources.
The explosion is the U.S. industry's deadliest in decades. It remains the subject of a criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney's office in Charleston and federal and state civil investigations. The company also has offered $3 million settlements with the families of the miners killed in the explosion.