Massey Energy has long maintained that the 2010 disaster at the Massey-owned mine was caused by a massive release of methane gas, which would absolve them from responsibility.
According to the report released Thursday and commissioned by the state's former governor, a mining machine hit a rock, which created a spark and ignited a pocket of pent-up gas. The crew saw it and immediately shut down the machine, but the fireball moved and hit coal dust, which is extremely combustible. This caused a series of massive blasts that reached two miles through the mine and lasted for several minutes.
The investigation found that the company's ventilation system didn't work adequately, causing the deadly build-up of explosive gases. The report found that Massey Energy failed to meet federal and state safety standards for the handling of rock dust and that emergency water systems were not properly maintained and failed to function as they should have.
"This report tragically reinforces that the disaster that took the lives of 29 men at Upper Big Branch last year was absolutely preventable," Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D - W.Va., said in a statement today. "That will always be one of the most painful facts about this explosion."
"Twenty-nine coal miners paid with their lives for corporate risk-taking," J. Davitt McAteer wrote in the report. "[Massey Energy] broke faith with its workers by frequently and knowingly violating the laws and blatantly disregarding safety practices while creating a public perception that its operations exceeded industry safety standards."
Federal and state regulators are also criticized for "failing to use all the tools at their disposal," but Massey Energy gets the vast majority of the blame in the report.
Tragedy for a Mining Community
Of the miners who were killed, 19 died of carbon monoxide intoxication, while the 10 other miners were killed by the explosions.
Three layers of protection designed to safeguard the lives of miners failed at Upper Big Branch.
First, Massey's pre-shift/on-shift examination system broke down so that safety hazards either were not recorded, or, if recorded, were not corrected. Second, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration failed to use all the tools at its disposal to ensure that the company was compliant with federal laws. Third, the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training failed in its role of enforcing state laws and serving as a watchdog for coal miners.
The deaths devastated the residents of Raleigh County, a mining community in West Virginia. The accident at the Upper Big Branch Mine was this country's worst mining disaster in 40 years.
For the families of the lost miners, the report will not bring solace, but may help them understand what happened on April 5, 2010, when fire erupted in the mine.
"There just ain't no peace out there right now. There just isn't," Charles Davis, 76, who lost his son Timmy, 51, and grandsons, Cory, 21, and Joshua, 27, in the accident, told ABC News.
"My boy, he was everything," he said in April while fighting back tears. "I can't look at the pictures. I can't say their names."