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Consolidation Coal Company
Blacksville No. 1 Mine
Shaft Explosion

Blacksville, Monongalia County, West Virginia
March 19, 1992
No. Killed - 4

Federal Mine Safety And Health Review Commission  PDF Format

See also: Blacksville No. 1 Mine Fire, July 22, 1972

To prepare the Blacksville No. 1 Mine for a shutdown, the operation's production shaft was capped on March 13, 1992.  This operation reduced the amount of intake air entering the shaft.

On March 17 workers began to install a 16-inch casing through an opening in the cap covering the production shaft.  This casing, which would be needed in the future for dewatering, was designed to extend the entire 800-foot length of the production shaft.

Procedures undertaken during the installation of the casing further restricted airflow, allowing an explosive methane-air mixture to accumulate beneath the cap.  At about 10:18 a.m. on March 19 the methane-air mixture was ignited by sparks or electric arcs produced by arc welding conducted on top of the cap.  The resulting explosion killed four workers and seriously injured two others.

MSHA investigators attributed the disaster to:
  • Violations of approved ventilation and methane and dust control plans that resulted from changes made to the ventilation system during the installation of the cap and casing and a failure to evaluate these changes.

  • Failure to maintain the volume and velocity of air in sufficient amounts to render harmless and carry away explosive gases.

  • Failure to conduct methane examinations at the capped production shaft.
Historical Summary of Mine Disasters in the United States - Volume II

Explosion rocks West Virginia coal mine
March 19, 1992

Blacksville, W.Va. -- A fiery explosion so powerful it sent debris flying hundreds of yards ripped through a coal mine Thursday, killing two people and critically injuring two others, officials said.

Authorities said they did not know the cause of the blast, which also caused minor injuries to another 11 people.  The 10:15 a.m. EST explosion occurred at Blacksville No. 1 -- owned by Consolidation Coal -- about 25 miles west of Morgantown and 55 miles south of Pittsburgh.

At the time of the blast, contract workers were installing a concrete cap on the mine shaft to close the mine.  It had been idle since last June because of slumping sales.

'We have two confirmed dead at the scene,' said Carolyn Bailey Lewis, an emergency services spokeswoman.  'We had two critically injured patients transferred to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown in critical condition.'

Lewis said one patient with minor injuries was taken by private vehicle at his request to Greene County Memorial Hospital in Waynesburg, Pa., and that emergency crews treated the other injured at the scene.

Lewis said rescue teams were still searching the site for additional victims Thursday afternoon 'because we don't know how many workers were at the plant at the time.'

Thomas Hoffman, a Consol spokesman, said three contract workers were unaccounted for.  He identified one of the dead as K.R. Baird, a Consol engineer from the Morgantown regional office, but Baird's age and hometown was not available.

The identities of the other victims, and those unaccounted for, were not available.

'The explosion was a major one, and there was great damage to the preparation plant' adjacent to the vertical mine shaft, Lewis said.  'Debris, we understand, was thrown up to a quarter of a mile away.'

Hoffman, in a telephone interview from Bethel Park, Pa., described the mine 'as a big concrete cap over a vertical shaft.  They bring out the coal by a vertical hoist, put it onto belts, and from there it goes into a production building.'

Hoffman said the production shaft had been idled since June 4, 1991, 'because of poor market conditions.'  He said workers were in the process of closing the mine when the blast occurred.

The company and state and federal mine officials are investigating the blast.  United Mine Workers President Richard Trumka dispatched a team of safety specialists to the scene as well.

Trumka said the blast offers 'stark witness to the fact that in the mining industry there's no subsitute for tough health and safety standards.'

'There can only by one of two explanations for why these workers died,' Trumka said.  'Either the employer wasn't complying with the law, or the law itself is simply inadequate when it comes to protecting worker lives.'

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