March 15, 2006
Work resumes at site of West Virginia mine deaths
By Steve James
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Miners returned to work at the Sago
coal mine in West Virginia on Wednesday, more than two months
after 12 men died in an underground explosion and fire that the
owner, International Coal Group Inc. (ICG), says was caused by
union -- which does not represent Sago workers -- blasting the
company as "reckless" for issuing its investigation results
before the official state and federal probes are completed.
ICG, whose shares rose more than 3 percent after the mine
reopened, said state and federal mine regulators approved
resumption of operations last week. But the company said it
wanted to wait until it met with Sago employees and the
families of the dead miners to review the initial findings of
its independent investigation.
A spokesman for the Ashland, Kentucky-based company said
work resumed with the arrival of the day shift.
ICG said in a statement it completed its on-site
investigation into the January 2 explosion at the mine near
Buckhannon, West Virginia. It found the explosion was caused by
a lightning strike that ignited methane that had accumulated
naturally in an abandoned, recently sealed area of the mine.
"The lightning ignition appears to be verified by three
independent events that occurred concurrently at 6:26 a.m. on
January 2," the company said.
"An unusually large lightning strike of roughly three times
normal strength was measured near the Sago mine by an
independent weather monitoring service."
It added that "a seismic event" at the mine was detected by
the U.S. Geological Survey at Morgantown, W.Va. and the Sago
mine atmospheric monitoring system signaled a combustion alarm
due to the presence of carbon monoxide.
"The precise route by which the lightning electrical charge
traveled from a surface strike location to the sealed area
remains under investigation," ICG said.
The United Mine Workers of America blasted the company's
"The release of an internal investigation by the
International Coal Group claiming that lightning caused the
explosion at the Sago mine in Upshur County, W.Va., is
unprecedented, reckless and premature," UMWA President Cecil
Roberts said in a statement.
"This action does a disservice to the families of those who
were killed at Sago. ICG even acknowledges that it doesn't know
how an electrical charge could have traveled from the surface
to the mine and ignited the explosion.
"To publicize their unfounded conclusion now, well before
the official investigation by federal and state experts is
finished, is extremely reckless."
He noted the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration
and the state of West Virginia were continuing their
investigation and had publicly said they have reached no
conclusions about the cause of the explosion.
Earlier, ICG Chief Executive Ben Hatfield said work crews
had completed repairs to the mine infrastructure by the end of
last week and state and federal mine regulators had said the
mine could resume operations.
"However," he said, "our plan from the beginning was to
delay restart of the mine until we had met with the families
and with our Sago employees to review the initial findings of
our independent investigation."
Hatfield said it was important to inform the families of
the cause of the accident and the steps ICG had taken to ensure
that the mine was safe. The company is awaiting the official
federal and state investigation reports.
ICG shares were up 31 cents at $9.04 on the New York Stock
Exchange in afternoon trading after work resumed.