Thursday, January 12, 2006

Sago Mine Owners Protest Too Much

Now I'm totally confused.

I thought the investigation into the Sago Mine disaster where 12 workers were killed last week was just getting under way, but apparently we don't need no stinkin' investigation to figure out what went wrong (or what didn't go wrong), according to company executives:
The CEO of the company that owns the Sago Mine came to the defense of the company's safety record at a news conference on Wednesday.

International Coal Group CEO Ben Hatfield said that the violations that have been made public since the explosion occurred do not connect with the explosion.

"These trained mine professionals certainly would not allow a mine to remain open if it deemed it to be unsafe," Hatfield said.
That's funny, that statement doesn't seem to be quite consistent with Ken Ward's article in today's Charleston Gazette:
Managers of the Sago Mine repeatedly ignored or simply missed hazardous roof conditions and dangerous buildups of combustible materials during required safety checks, according to federal records released Tuesday.

Federal inspectors cited Sago over and over for serious violations of roof control rules, explosion prevention measures and other safety lapses.

But more importantly, safety experts say, the Sago Mine management was found by government inspectors to be unwilling or incapable of properly checking the mine’s conditions before workers went underground.

In one case, a federal inspector alleged that one Sago foreman had “engaged in aggravated conduct” by ignoring numerous problems with a battery charging station.
Then there are a few safety experts that don't exactly agree with Hatfield's high assessment of the company's "trained mine professionals" either:
One safety expert said the string of faulty mine examinations was so severe it should have been considered for federal criminal prosecution.

“I would say that these are indicative of an operator who wasn’t going to let safety get in the way of production,” said Tony Oppegard, a longtime mine safety expert who has worked for federal and state regulatory agencies.
If you're interested in getting the best information on the continuing story of the Sago mine disaster, you should bookmark the Charleston Gazette ( and read Ken Ward's stories every morning. Day after day he comes up with information that no one else is able to dig out.

One more example. You know how International Coal Group executives have been claiming that they really aren't to blame for the Sago mine's problems because they just bought the company in November? Well, Ward has studied court records, corporate disclosures and other publicly available documents and found that "New York billionaire Wilbur L. Ross Jr. has controlled the company that owns the Sago Mine since at least early 2001."

This is what journalism should be about.