Feds shut down 6 Kentucky coal mines, issue 16 citations to Colorado mine

Federal regulators shut down operations at six Kentucky coal mines targeted by surprise inspections in the wake of last month’s deadly West Virginia mine explosion. The only Colorado mine targeted – Twentymile’s Foidel Creek Mine in Routt County – was allowed to keep operating but did receive 16 safety citations.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration Thursday released the results of last month’s “inspection blitz,” which targeted 57 coal mines around the country with a “history of significant and/or repeat violations of safety standards concerning methane, mine ventilation and rock dusting.”

A deadly buildup of improperly vented methane gas is suspected in the April 5 explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Branch Mine in West Virginia that killed 29 miners. None of the six Kentucky mines forced to suspend operations are owned by Massey, which is the subject of a criminal investigation in the West Virginia case.

“After last month’s tragic reminder of the consequences of failing to make safety a priority, it is appalling that these operations continued to flout fundamental safety and health standards,” Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, said in a release.

“At the very least, they have failed to conduct their own mine examinations for hazards. Mine operators have a responsibility to provide for the safety and health of the miners they employ, and too many of the mines we inspected are failing to take that responsibility seriously.”

Foidel Creek, located between Hayden and Oak Creek in northwest Colorado, is Colorado’s most production coal mine, but it also had the highest number of injuries and safety violations in 2009, tallying 29 of the 88 injuries statewide. The mine is operated by Peabody Energy.

Colorado is the nation’s ninth most productive coal-mining state, but criticism of the state’s coal industry has mostly focused on road building on public lands to accommodate methane venting. Conservation groups have been battling to compel Colorado coal mines to capture or at least burn off methane gas, which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping greenhouse gas.

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