The West Virginia mine where an incident killed 29 men two years ago will be permanently sealed with concrete today, according to the mine's new owner.
Formerly under Massey Energy, Alpha Natural Resources acquired the mine last summer and made the announcement to officially shut it down yesterday.
"Everyone still has vivid memories of the tragedy and the suffering the miners' families endured," Chief Executive Officer Kevin Crutchfield said Wednesday. "For all of us in the mining industry, it is a solemn reminder of why we must always put safety first in everything we do."
Alpha's $210 million no-persecution agreement with the US Department of Justice spared the company of liability, but not the prosecution of individuals.
Nine individuals have been sued from the victims' families, who they hold responsible for one of the worst US coal mining disasters in four decades. The lawsuit does not target either mining company, but rather individuals responsible for safety measures and operations of the mine. Thus far, only two Massey employees have faced criminal charges. Gary May, former superintendent, has pleaded guilty to defrauding the federal government and is cooperating with prosecutors.
SEE OTHER TOP STORIES IN THE ENERGY DIGITAL CONTENT NETWORK
A focal point of the lawsuit is a memo issued by former Massey Energy chief Don Blankenship to all underground mine superintendents in 2005, telling them to focus solely on production and profits.
"If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal ... you need to ignore them and run coal," it said. "This memo is only necessary because we seem not to understand that coal pays the bills."
"Instead of cleaning up their act" after the deaths at the Alma No. 1 mine, "defendants redoubled their efforts at squeezing profits from safety-challenged UBB," according to the lawsuit.
The explosion ripped through seven miles of underground corridors, fueled by methane and coal dust on April 5, 2010. According to investigators, the explosion was sparked by preventable safety issues: worn cutting equipment and clogged and broken water sprayers. Today, West Virginians led by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin observed a moment of silence to mark the blast's second anniversary.