Pa. yanks permit from mine with fatality

Pa. yanks permit from mine with fatality

Pennsylvania regulators stripped a coal mine operator of its permit Friday, saying it covered up the cause of an explosion two years before a miner in a similar blast there was killed.

The Department of Environmental Protection ordered R&D Coal Co. to seal its Buck Mountain Slope Mine, where Dale Reightler, 43, was killed in an explosion sparked by methane gas in October.

In 2004, four workers at the same mine were injured in an explosion that company officials claimed was caused by a pipe with a faulty gauge. R&D was allowed to reopen after installing safety equipment.

After last fall’s fatal blast, state investigators took another look at the 2004 case and concluded that naturally occurring methane caused the explosion, and that R&D officials had lied.

“The cover-up of the previous accident and the similarities between the two accidents” indicate that mine owners are unable or unwilling to operate the mine safely, Bureau of Mine Safety investigators wrote in a revised accident report released Friday.

R&D officials did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Friday.

The DEP investigation into the October blast found that R&D had violated 22 laws, including allowing uncertified miners to blast rock and coal, and failing to adequately measure methane levels before detonating explosives.

DEP has suspended three miners involved in the October accident. It wasn’t immediately clear whether further action would be taken against company officials.

Federal regulators also were investigating the mine. Between the fatal blast and Friday’s closure by the state, the federal agency had shut down portions of the mine six times, according to Dirk Fillpot, spokesman for the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

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