MSHA skirted questions on methane at W.Va. mine - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

MSHA skirted questions on methane at W.Va. mine

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- New records show federal officials stopped independent investigators from questioning how regulators had handled methane leaks in the Upper Big Branch mine before last year's disaster.

Twenty-nine West Virginia miners died in an explosion the Mine Safety and Health Administration says was fueled by methane and coal dust. An MSHA report released Tuesday says naturally occurring methane was leaking from the floor.

The Charleston Gazette says independent investigators wanted to know how MSHA handled those leaks in prior years.

But a lawyer on MSHA's investigation team tried to stop the questions and keep his objections from appearing in the public record of the probe.

MSHA administrator Kevin Stricklin tells the Gazette it appears his inspectors didn't address the problem, but he says many other factors contributed to the blast.

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