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ERP Compliant Fuels cited, fined in May coal-mining death

Photo from U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration |
A photo from federal regulators shows the site of a May mining death at Pinnacle Mining in Wyoming County.

The operator of a Wyoming County coal mine has been cited and fined by West Virginia regulators in the May death of a worker at its underground operation, according to a report and other documents made public Monday.

Pinnacle Mining Company was cited by the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training following the agency’s investigation of the death of Luches Rosser, a 44-year-old miner from Man.

Rosser was killed when his head struck two different steel I-beams as he and another worker were traveling in an underground locomotive at the Pinnacle Mine near Pineville. Pinnacle Mining is owned by ERP Compliant Fuels, a firm started by a group called the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund, which has been buying up troubled coal properties in the hope of using profits for tree-planting reclamation that would help fight climate change.

State investigators found that there was no warning light, reflective sign or reflective tape to mark the spot where the incident happened: An area along the underground mine track where the mine roof drops from about 80 inches high to about 50 inches of clearance, according to an eight-page report made public during a Monday meeting of the state Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety.

The state’s report, like a preliminary report previously released by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, said that the death occurred at about 11 p.m. on May 18, after a pole that connects the locomotive to its power supply wire came off that wire, which is known as a trolley wire.

The state report, citing testimony from the other mine in the locomotive, said that Rosser turned, stood up and placed the trolley pole back onto the trolley wire.

“When Mr. Rosser returned to his seat, he turned his head in the direction of travel and struck his head on a ... metal I-beam causing him to lose his hard hat,” the state report said. “Mr. Rosser than attempted to place his hard hat back on his head when he struck his head against a second ... I-beam and immediately slumped over.”

Rosser was “unconscious and unresponsive,” the state report said. Other miners detected a faint pulse, and tried to revive Rosser with CPR and with “ammonia capsules” placed under his nose, but “did not get a response,” the state report said. Rosser was transported to Welch Community Hospital, where he was officially pronounced dead at 12:50 a.m. on May 19.

State investigators also cited Pinnacle Mining for being unable to provide paperwork to show that Rosser received “adequate training” dealing with the mine’s track system and a prohibition against standing upright in a locomotive while it is in motion.

Greg Norman, director of the state mine safety office, said investigators believed that Rosser received the training, but that the company was cited for not being able to provide the paperwork to prove the training occurred. That citation was classified by the state as deserving a “special assessment,” and state officials proposed a $10,000 fine.

Under state law, most violations of coal-mining safety and health rules can draw fines of up to $5,000. Special assessments of up to $10,000 can be issued in cases involving deaths, imminent danger or a high degree of negligence.

State officials proposed a fine of $1,667 for the citation for not having the change in mine roof marked with warnings for the workers.

Pinnacle was also cited — and fined $144 — for not complying with a state rule that requires mining deaths to be reported in writing within 24 hours.

Officials from Pinnacle Mining and ERP Compliant Fuels did not respond by press deadlines to a request for comment on the state report and fines.

Another mine owned by ERP Compliant Fuels — the Oak Grove Mine in Jefferson County, Alabama — reported two coal-mining deaths between December 2016 and June 2017.

MSHA has not yet made public its report on the Pinnacle Mine death or the two deaths at the Oak Grove Mine.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.

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