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Massey Energy: West Virginia mine explosion site's checkered past

The Upper Big Branch mine, where the West Virginia mine explosion occurred Monday, had about 500 violations issued against it last year. The mine is owned by Massey Energy.

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West Virginia mine explosion: A coal train passes under a belt at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine Tuesday in Montcoal, W.Va. On Monday an explosion at the mine killed at least 25 miners.

Jeff Gentner/AP

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This isn’t the first time that West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine has had safety issues.

An explosion Monday that left at least 25 miners dead (four are still unaccounted for) is the worst US mining disaster since 1984, when 27 died in a fire at a Utah mine.

Already, the West Virginia mine explosion is focusing attention on the safety record of Massey Energy, which owns Upper Big Branch and has been scrutinized for its safety record before.

“They are notorious,” says Michael Shnayerson, author of “Coal River,” a book that is critical of the West Virginia mining industry. “Routinely, they roll up more violations than anybody else by far.”

Some of those violations have been at the Upper Big Branch mine, which has been frequently cited for dangerous conditions. According to records from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the mine had about 500 violations issued against it last year (many of which are being contested). Nearly 200 of the violations were deemed “significant and substantial,” and about 50 were tagged as "unwarrantable failure" to comply – among the most serious citations that can be issued.

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