June 08, 2010

A Tale of Two Disasters: The overlapping cases of Massey’s ties MSHA and BP’s ties to MMS

By CREW Staff

April 5, 2010: Upper Big Branch Mine explosion kills 29 workers

April 20, 2010: Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig explosion kills 11 workers

Over the past few months, two of the largest energy crises in recent decades rocked the United States. As communities in West Virginia and the Gulf Coast region scramble to recover, the public is already calling for accountability from the corporations involved and the federal agencies charged with their oversight. Each disaster is closely tied to either the incompetence or the corruption (possibly a combination of the two) of a federal agency. Both the Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Minerals Management Service (MMS) have played roles in April’s calamities, by letting safety violations pass with little-to-no fuss and allowing the energy industry to call the shots in regulations and safety standards.

MSHA sent violation notice after violation notice to Massey Energy but never followed up with consequential action. MSHA issued 61 closure orders to Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine to evacuate all miners from the area until the hazard was eliminated in 2009 and the first quarter of 2010.In 2009 alone, Massey Energy received a total of 515 citations, yet the federal regulators never cited the Upper Big Branch Mine for a pattern of violations order. The MSHA has even gone far enough to aid Massey Energyto appeal fines and violations after the legal deadline had passed.

The MMS has done no better—in the light of the BP disaster, the relationships between the oil industry and employees of MMS has become increasingly clear. The Interior Department Inspector General released an investigative reportrevealing oil and gas production companies gave gifts to federal officials responsible for inspecting offshore rigs for safety and operational compliance with federal regulations.The IG found “A culture where the acceptance of gift from oil and gas companies were widespread” within one of the four MMS districts in Louisiana. According to the report, the culture of gift giving decreased after an MMS supervisor from a different district was terminated for receiving gifts. A tale of another federal agency corrupted by industry.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the tales of these two disasters, the words that Charles Dickens wrote in 1859 hold true today:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,

It was the age of greed, it was the age of foolishness. . .

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