The West Virginia coal mine where a collapse this week killed two workers had “chronic compliance issues” and received numerous citations from inspectors last year, federal authorities said on Tuesday.
“We express our deepest sympathies to Eric’s and Gary’s families, friends and co-workers,” Mike Day, Patriot’s executive vice president for operations, said in a statement.
He said the St. Louis-based company was cooperating with state and federal regulators investigating the accident.
Patriot said the incident took place as workers were carrying out retreat mining, which involves mining coal and leaving pillars behind to support the mine roof. When mining is completed, the pillars are collapsed and removed.
Federal authorities said there was a pattern of difficulties at the mine.
Last October, the Patriot Coal Corp.’s Brody Mine was placed on “pattern of violations” status, a scheme designed to bring “chronic violators” of federal mining standards into line, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) said in a statement. In 2013, MSHA issued 514 citations, orders and safeguards against it.
Asked for a response, a Patriot spokeswoman pointed to the company’s annual report, which notes that many of the Brody violations preceded Patriot’s acquisition of the mine and that the site’s performance had improved.
Mine Safety data for the Brody mine shows that the rate of days lost because of accidents there has been above the national average since 2006.
The two deaths raised the number of U.S. coal mining fatalities this year to five, and there were 20 in 2013, according to Mine Safety data.
West Virginia is one of the biggest U.S. producers of coal and leads states in coal-mining deaths, Mine Safety numbers show. Before Monday’s accident, the state recorded 124 deaths since 2003, about 39 percent of the U.S. total.
Separately, Patriot said on Monday it was temporarily idling its Highland mine complex near Henderson, Kentucky. It cited a structural failure that damaged part of the Camp Preparation Plant last week.
(Editing by Edith Honan, Eric Walsh and Ken Wills)