Friday, April 9, 2010

Upper Big Branch South Mine Explosion: Could Data Mining Have Prevented a Coal Mine Disaster?

The April 5th explosion at the Upper Big Branch South Mine (Performance Coal Co.) in Whitesville, W.VA. got me wondering, what type of data was available that somehow would have suggested this mine was at a dangerous point. I was able to find the citation information published on the United States Department of Labor, Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) [under Data Transparency at MSHA]. My colleague Paul McMurray and I found that out of the 124 total citations in 2010, ~43% (53 citations) were issued in the month of March 2010 with a potential penalty of $1,077,339 [where we expressed it as the maximum penalty assigned a given standard historic citation since 2007-01-01)]. It’s also worth noting that this mine had over 500 citations in 2009 (~46% of all violations since 2007). Without exploring the data for other mines, these numbers seem to be high enough by themselves to suggest that this mine could have been a candidate for a greater level of scrutiny by federal, state and local authorities that are responsible to overlook mines safety.

The following table shows the Upper Big Branch Mine-South Citations, Orders and Safecards Detail Issued for March 2010 [Google Fusion Table (collaborative online spreadsheet)]. Further analysis [e.g., data mining] should look into the type of standards to see if we can categorize the various violations of these standards [e.g., ventilation problems, escape routes, etc.].


  1. I have find this useful, so many lifes could've been saved had restrictions or stop work orders been in place.

    Hilary O.

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