The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) released year-end data that shows there were 15 deaths at U.S. coal mines in 2017, one year after the industry recorded a record low number of fatalities, eight, in 2016. MSHA also reported 13 fatalities in metal/nonmetal mines, a decrease of four from 2016.
Eight of the coal mining fatalities were in West Virginia. Kentucky had two deaths, and there were one each in Alabama, Colorado, Montana, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. In 2016 there were eight U.S. coal mine deaths.
The Associated Press reported that West Virginia has led the nation in coal mining deaths in six of the past eight years. That includes 2010, when 29 miners were killed in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia.
Eight coal mining deaths in 2017 involved hauling vehicles and two others involved machinery. None were attributed to an explosion of gas or dust, which was to blame for the Upper Big Branch disaster.
The number of coal mining fatalities was under 20 for the fourth straight year after reaching exactly 20 in 2011, 2012 and 2013. By comparison, in 1966, the mining industry counted 233 deaths. A century ago there were 2,226.
There have been 13 fatalities in 2017 in non-coal mines that produce gravel, sand, limestone and mineable metals. There were 17 such deaths in 2015 and 30 in 2014.
According to the Energy Information Administration’s weekly estimates, U.S. coal production increased 8.9 percent in the 52 weeks ending Dec. 23, the latest available. Production in West Virginia increased 16 percent, including 25 percent in coal-rich southern West Virginia.
Wyoming, the top coal-producing state, saw a 10.7 percent increase and Pennsylvania had an 11.6 percent hike.