Archive for April, 2010

Ky. mine where 2 died had roof support problems (AP)

Thursday, April 29th, 2010 | Finance News

PROVIDENCE, Ky. – The underground coal mine where two workers were killed in a roof collapse has been cited at least six times this year for using too few supporting bolts in the roof, state records show.

The rock fall that killed the men happened late Wednesday about four miles inside the Dotiki Mine and instability in the roof hampered rescue efforts, mining officials said Thursday.

Rescuers were "within an arm's length" of the body of a miner trapped under rock when the roof became unstable and they had to retreat, said Gov. Steve Beshear, who traveled to the mine and met with families of the victims.

"About that time, the roof started moving again," he said. "Rocks started falling again. And they had to pull back."

Beshear identified the two men who died as Justin Travis, 27, and Michael Carter, 28.

Family members had gathered at the nearby Nebo Baptist Church awaiting news. One woman had to be taken from the church by stretcher into an ambulance when word of the second death came Thursday afternoon.

The families left soon after without speaking to reporters.

At least six times since January, state inspectors ordered portions of the mine closed because roof bolts were too far apart, according to written citations The Associated Press obtained from the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing through an open records request.

Roof bolts are metal rods drilled into overhead rock layers to help prevent roof falls. According to the citations, inspectors allowed the mine sections to reopen after additional roof bolts were inserted in each of the locations.

Some of the roof bolts had been placed some 6 feet apart, in violation of a roof control plan MSHA had approved for the mine.

In all, state inspectors have issued 31 orders to close sections of the mine or to shut down equipment because of safety violations since January 2009. Those records also show an additional 44 citations for safety violations that didn't result in closure orders.

U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration records show the mine was cited 840 times by federal inspectors for safety violations since January 2009, and 11 times closure orders were issued.

The records show 214 of the citations were issued in the first four months of this year, and twice inspectors issued closure orders this year.

The accident happened while the miners were operating what's known as a continuous miner, a toothy machine that digs coal for transport to the surface.

Carl Boone, MSHA district supervisor, said crews were able to remove Carter's body from the mine but were still working to retrieve the body of Travis.

Boone said the mine rescue team was made of men who still work in the mines or had done so recently.

"It's like one big family. A situation like this, it's hard on all of them," Boone said.

Scott Townsend, owner of Townsend's Food Store in Travis' hometown of Hanson, said he played golf with the miner.

The two talked about playing in a charity golf game when Townsend saw Travis as he was heading to work on Wednesday.

"Justin was a really good guy. He was in the store just about every day. We will always remember Justin," Townsend said.

The mine is owned by Alliance Resource Partners, based in Tulsa, Okla., and operates under the name of Webster County Coal.

Company officials said in a statement that "an isolated portion of the mine roof fell unexpectedly," and they are "deeply saddened" by the workers' deaths.

Charlie Wesley, an executive vice president for the coal company, said the last fatality inside the mine was in 1988. Alliance purchased the mine in 1971.

Alliance's vice president of operations is Mine Safety and Health Administration veteran Kenneth A. Murray, a former district manager for the agency in eastern Kentucky who headed the investigation of a January 2006 fire that killed two men at a Massey Energy mine in West Virginia.

The Dotiki mine was at least partially idled in 2004 when a supply tractor caught fire and spread flames to the coal, timbers and other equipment. The 70 miners who were underground were all safely evacuated and the mine returned to full production in about a month.

A worker died outside the mine in 1995 when the bulldozer he was operating fell into a cavity in a coal stock pile. He was buried and suffocated.

Alliance primarily sells coal to electric utilities. It reported 3,090 full-time employees, $1.1 billion in assets and $1.2 billion in total revenues at the end of 2009.

The nation's worst coal mine disaster in 40 years happened this month in West Virginia, where 29 men died in an explosion inside a mine owned by Massey Energy Co.

Kentucky has had one miner killed this year in a roof fall at a mine in southeastern Kentucky. Kentucky led the nation in mining deaths last year with six in coal mines and one in a limestone quarry.

Beshear said Wednesday that a budget impasse in Frankfort could force a partial government shutdown that could halt, at least temporarily, mine inspections and idle mine rescue teams unless lawmakers reach an agreement on a spending plan before July 1.

Steve Earl, a regional vice president of United Mine Workers of America. called that unacceptable.

"This is not the time for the state of Kentucky to be cutting back on safety inspections and ending mine rescue teams," he said. "They need to find the money somewhere."

Lexington attorney Tony Oppegard, a mine safety advocate and former regulator, called the Dotiki rock fall tragic.

"The reality is that most miners die one at a time or a few at a time," he said. "But it's just as devastating to the families as when 29 miners die."


Associated Press Writers Lucas L. Johnson in Providence, Tim Huber in Charleston, W.Va., and Kristin Hall in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this story.


Workers march on Wall Street, protest big banks (AP)

Thursday, April 29th, 2010 | Finance News

NEW YORK – Thousands of workers and union leaders marched on Wall Street on Thursday to express their anger over lost jobs, the taxpayer-funded bailout of financial institutions and questionable lending practices by big banks.

The rally was organized by the AFL-CIO and an association of community groups. It included a diverse mixture of union workers, activists, the unemployed, and homeowners threatened by foreclosure.

"These guys are like pirates," said small business owner Karen Casamassima, of New York, who called for "economic patriotism" and held up a jewel encrusted skull with the words, "Financial Terrorists."

The protesters, carrying signs saying "Wall Street Overdrafted Our Economy" and "Reclaim America," rallied at City Hall Park, then marched down to the Merrill Lynch Bull statue demanding good jobs and accountability from banks.

"I think Wall Street is responsible for the collapse of our economy," said Bennett Silverstein, an attorney from Brooklyn who said his savings were depleted by the recession.

Earlier in the day, noisy protesters with signs took over two bank building lobbies on Manhattan's Park Avenue in a prelude to the rally.

More than 100 people entered a midtown building housing JPMorgan Chase offices. They handed a bank executive a letter requesting a meeting with the CEO, and chanted "Bust up! Big banks!" and "People power!"

A half-hour later, they were calmly escorted outside by officers, who remained expressionless as the protesters chanted, "The police need a raise."

They then walked a few blocks up the avenue and crowded into the lobby of the Seagram Building, where Wells Fargo and Wachovia, the bank it merged with in 2008, have offices.

The protesters held up signs reading, "Save Our Jobs" and "Save Our Homes." One included a Great Depression-era photograph. Police arrived on horseback as curious office workers watched the scene unfold from their windows.

"We're here today to stop the corporate greed that is ruining our neighborhoods," said Andrea Goldman, 59, of Springfield, Mass., who's part of a group called Alliance to Develop Power.

Fran Durst, a Wachovia spokeswoman, said the protesters wanted to deliver a letter to the bank, and they did so. She declined further comment on the letter.

The other banks did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, which includes many Wall Street financial institutions, declined to comment.


Parnell vetoes bill to separate gas, oil taxes (AP)

Thursday, April 29th, 2010 | Finance News

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell on Thursday vetoed a measure that would have changed the state's system of taxing oil and gas production together.

The veto, the first of the Republican's still-young administration, came one day before the scheduled start to an open season for a major natural gas pipeline being advanced by TransCanada Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp. under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act. The open season — when shipping commitments are sought for a line — was seen as the impetus among some lawmakers for pushing to have oil and gas production taxes separated.

The veto wasn't entirely unexpected. Parnell for months expressed skepticism about the need for the change now. His revenue commissioner, Pat Galvin, was perhaps the most outspoken critic of the change in the waning days of the recent legislative session, claiming it sent the wrong message to industry.

Parnell echoed that in a statement Thursday and said the bill "effectively would have levied a significant overall tax increase on companies engaged in oil and gas production."

A change in the structure now, he said, "could be a destabilizing influence and adversely affect the two upcoming open seasons for Alaska natural gas shipping commitments."

After the first open season beginning Friday, the second open season, for a competing project jointly owned by ConocoPhillips and BP PLC, is set to start this summer.

Senate Finance Committee co-chair Bert Stedman, who became the public face for lawmakers seeking the change, didn't buy Parnell's assertion that the bill would have adversely affected the open seasons. If anything, he said, Parnell's veto could leave the state open to "substantial exposure" depending on the results of the imminent open season.

"It's bad news for the state, in my opinion, no doubt," Stedman, R-Sitka, told The Associated Press in a phone interview. With the open season starting Friday, there was no time for any veto override attempt.

"It was a decision the governor had to make," Stedman said. "The Legislature made (its) decision, that it did not want the exposure to the state."

The issue consumed considerable time and attention during the session. Lawmakers seeking the change argued that once gas begins flowing through a major line in a decade or so, the state stands to potentially lose $2 billion or more unless the two taxes are split.

They attributed this possible loss to a "dilution effect" on revenues when oil prices are high relative to gas and said it would essentially amount to Alaska giving away its resource.

Currently, tax calculations on energy companies' profits are based on the combined energy value of oil and gas. According to a report by consultants Logsdon & Associates, combining lower-value gas with higher-value oil under a major gas sale would push down the net value of the combined two and dilute the state's profitability on a per-barrel basis.

Stedman has said the current structure had the potential to "blow up our entire fiscal regime" that makes oil Alaska's bread-and-butter commodity, and he said lawmakers would be derelict in their duty if they ended the session with the issue unresolved.

It almost didn't pass. The House voted down the measure late on the Legislature's last scheduled day, April 18. That set off a tense standoff with the Senate that ended hours later: The House rescinded its vote and passed the bill after supporters' efforts to persuade their colleagues. The Legislature adjourned early April 19.

The highly complicated issue found ardent supporters, equally ardent opponents and a vast middle uncertain what to make of it. Both sides relied heavily on projections that may or may not prove out; it's not yet clear if there will even be a major pipeline.

Parnell, at one point, called the $2 billion figure "mythological," and Galvin's department said it would only be realized if three things came to pass: Alaska was successful in realizing a major line; oil and gas prices remained far apart, "defying fundamental economic principles"; and the next five legislatures left the current tax structure alone.

Stedman maintained, though, that it was safer to err on the side of caution. On Thursday, he said the veto leaves the state in a weaker negotiating position and disputed claims the bill amounted to a tax increase.

In his statement, Parnell said that while the legislative hearings on the issue were a "worthwhile exploration of important state policy issues, not enough consideration was given to the complexity of the subject."

He said he expects the state and producers to discuss fiscal issues and terms in the coming years. The debate around the bill, he said, "provides a valuable starting point."