Alpha establishes mine safety foundation - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Alpha establishes mine safety foundation

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Alpha Natural Resources on Monday officially announced the establishment of the Alpha Foundation for the Improvement of Mine Safety and Health.

The non-profit organization will seek to improve mine health and safety by funding academic and nonprofit research projects. Alpha contributed $48 million to the foundation.

"The safety of our employees is the highest value of our company, and mine safety and health is imperative to the success of our industry," said Alpha CEO Kevin Crutchfield. "We are proud to establish and fund the Alpha Foundation and also appoint three leading experts to advance its objectives.  This presents a tremendous opportunity to drive the latest developments and innovation in mine safety and health to the benefit of miners around the world."

The foundation is being created as part of Alpha Natural Resources' non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office of Southern West Virginia from Dec. 6. The agreement followed the Upper Big Branch explosion in Raleigh County where 29 coal miners died.

The settlement totaled about $209 million, of which $80 million was to go to directly improve mine safety at all Alpha underground mines.

The agreement included settlements for the miners' families and does not prevent the prosecution of individuals within Massey Energy, the company that owned the mine at the time of the explosion. Alpha acquired Massey months after the explosion.

The foundation appointed three directors to administer the foundation: Dr. Keith A. Heasley of West Virginia University's College of Engineering and Mineral Resources; Dr. David H. Wegman, emeritus professor of work environment at the University of Massachusetts Lowell; and Dr. Michael E. Karmis, professor and director of the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech.      

According to an Alpha news release, the foundation will host a kickoff meeting this summer to discuss funding priorities.

"Drs. Heasley, Wegman, and Karmis are leaders in mine safety and workplace safety, and I am pleased they have agreed to serve on the Foundation's board," U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said. "Each board member brings many years of research experience and world-class expertise that will help the Foundation foster life-saving advances in mine safety and health."

The foundation is to operate independently of the U.S. Attorney's office or Alpha Natural Resources.

"The research and development component of our agreement with Alpha holds the promise of breakthroughs that will transform mine safety in the coming decades," Goodwin continued. "The Foundation will jumpstart innovation and put brilliant minds to work on the risks that coal miners face. We look forward to a future in which coal mining is as safe as any other occupation."

Heasley is a professor of mining engineering at the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at West Virginia University and a registered professional engineer in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Heasley is developing a portable seismic system for locating trapped miners that can be set up within minutes of arriving at an accident site.

"As part of our land-grant mission and service to people of West Virginia, WVU is committed to excellence in mining education, research and extension," West Virginia University President Jim Clements said. "Through this work, we honor those who have lost their lives and seek to prevent such losses in the future. WVU pledges its experience and expertise to help this foundation with its important goals in mine safety research."

Gene Cilento, Glen H. Hiner Dean of the Statler College, emphasized the importance of Heasley's work in seismic detection of miners, funded by a $1.2 million grant from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Mining health and safety should be paramount to everyone associated with the industry," he said in a  WVU news release. "Keith Heasley's scientific work in safety research and ground control will make him a valuable asset to the Alpha Foundation. I look forward to the committee's work to fund advancements in this vital energy industry that is so important to the state and nation."

Wegman was named emeritus professor of work environment at UMass Lowell in 2009 after serving a five-year term as Dean of the university's School of Health and Environment. Wegman's has also served as chairman of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration's Advisory Committee on the elimination of pneumoconiosis among coal mine workers. 

Karmis is the Stonie Barker Professor of Virginia Tech's Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering and director of the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech.  According to the Alpha release, Karmis has conducted current and past research on various topics including the environmental impacts of mining, mine systems design, and mine health and safety. 

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