Alpha cut accident rates at coal mines formerly owned by Massey Energy: prosecutors

Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR) has drastically cut its accident and injury rates in the six months since a landmark $210 million settlement, which spared the company criminal charges over the 2010 mine explosion that killed 29 workers, federal prosecutors said Monday.

According to the Associated Press (AP), Alpha reduced its accident rate by a third and its injury rate by 25% at West Virginia's Upper Big Branch mine and other operations formerly own by Massey Energy Co.

The 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, considered the worst accident at a U.S. coal mine in four decades, pushed authorities to issue a new set of rules for inspecting underground coal mines in April this year.

The new guidelines require underground coal mine operators to examine more thoroughly and correct hazardous conditions that pose the greatest threat to miners.

Alpha, reports AP, has also started building an $18 million training centre that U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin told AP will considerably favour the industry.

Last year, U.S. Department of Labour officials concluded that the explosion could and should have been prevented by the operator, Massey Energy, which was bought in 2011 Alpha Natural Resources.  They said that evidence did not support Massey's claims that the explosion was caused by a sudden, unforeseen inflow of gas. A crack in the floor, which Massey had identified as the likely source of the gas, was found to be 'rootless', which means it was not connected to an area containing combustible gas.

The explosion was most likely started by a limited amount of methane or natural gas, probably ignited by the longwall shearer, they said. The ignition was allowed to occur because of missing and faulty water sprays.