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First Independent Report on Upper Big Branch Mine Explosion Expected Thursday

The results of the first independent investigation into the cause of the massive explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 miners on April 5, 2010, is expected to be publicly released on Thursday after it is shared with members of the victims’ families.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who was then the Governor of West Virginia, appointed the panel to be led by J. Davitt MacAteer, a former head of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. According to the Associated Press, the report is based on more than 300 interviews and will address competing theories put forth about what, exactly, caused the explosion, which was the deadliest mine blast in this country since 1970.

Massey officials have long contended that the blast was caused by an enormous rush of naturally occuring methane, also known as natural gas, that inundated the mine’s safety systems before it exploded.

Government investigators believe the explosion may have been caused by mining machinery that threw a spark, which ignited a small pocket of natural gas that in turn ignited a blanket of coal dust that had spread throughout the mine.

The mine had a lengthy history of violations, including a number of citations for inadequate ventilation, in the days and weeks leading up to the explosion.

The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health named the Upper Big Branch explosion as the second most tragic workplace incident of 2010, behind only the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.