“It is unheard of for MSHA to parade non-technical political operatives through critical areas of the UBB mine without first having key pieces of evidence in these sections properly secured,” said Shane Harvey, general counsel for Massey Energy. “Individuals are literally stepping on potential evidence before it has been photographed, mapped or preserved. This hampers the ability of investigators to identify key evidentiary facts that can point to the exact cause of the UBB accident.”

“Having the leader of the United Mine Workers, whose agenda and rush to judgment desires are well known, tour the mine as nothing more than a gawker before evidence is protected interferes with an investigation that should be based on facts and science,” he added.

According to the UMVA, Roberts, a fifth-generation coal miner who worked underground before being elected to union office, went to the mine at the invitation of MSHA so that he could see first-hand the condition of the mine and understand what investigators, including several experts from the UMWA, are encountering as they work to find the cause of explosion. The UMWA is a designated miners’ representative in the investigation and has assigned safety experts with decades of mine safety experience to the inquiry.

Ironically, the initial invitation from MSHA came following a request from Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship to travel underground. MSHA agreed, and invited the leaders of the other organizations participating in the investigation to participate as well.

“Incidents like the explosion at Upper Big Branch aren’t supposed to just happen in this day and age,” said Dennis O’Dell, the UMWA’s administrator of Occupational Safety and Health, who accompanied Roberts underground. “Somebody either did something – or didn’t do something – that caused this explosion.”

According to O’Dell, Massey management’s safety track record “doesn’t give anyone much confidence that the company had safety first in mind at UBB.” He added that testimony that already has been heard by the House Committee on Education and Labor from the miners who worked at UBB “makes it clear that, as with other Massey operations, management was interested in production first and put safety a distant second.”

Apparently, Blankenship has forgotten that he invited MSHA to tour the mine. “By conducting a tour of an accident scene before proper investigatory protocols have been complete, MSHA continues to undermine the integrity of the data collected from UBB,” said Blankenship. “Once evidence in key sections of the mine has been documented and preserved, I am looking forward to going underground with investigators. Our goal all along has been to understand what happened at UBB and learn from it so it never happens again.”

On that point, UMWA’s O’Dell and Massey appear to agree, though O’Dell appears to doubt Massey Energy’s sincerity in claiming to want to cooperate with investigators to find the cause of the explosion.

“Everyone involved with this investigation needs to be about the business of finding out what happened at this mine so that we can keep it from happening again anywhere else,” O’Dell said.

“Our only interest is in finding out what happened, what caused it and identifying the responsible parties who should be punished,” O’Dell said. “That’s clearly not Massey’s interest, which may be why they’re spending so much time, money and effort on this PR flim-flam.”