Farmington MIne

A day late, but yesterday was the 55th anniversary of the Farmington Mine Disaster, November 20, 1968. Below is a short piece on the disaster by veteran mine safety attorney Tony Oppegard, originally published on Facebook.


–Tony Oppegard

I was a freshman in college on November 20, 1968 when a gigantic methane explosion destroyed Consolidation Coal Company’s No. 9 mine – located near Farmington and Mannington, West Virginia – killing 78 coal miners.. The bodies of 19 of those miners are still entombed in the mine today.

It is said that all mine safety laws are written with the blood of coal miners, and that certainly was the case with the Federal Coal Mine Health & Safety Act of 1969, which was enacted by the U.S. Congress in response to the Farmington Mine Disaster. It was the first comprehensive mine safety law ever enacted in America.

It is said that all mine safety laws are written with the blood of coal miners, and that certainly was the case with the Federal Coal Mine Health & Safety Act of 1969

That law (called the “Coal Act”), along with its successor, the Federal Mine Safety & Health Act of 1977 (“the Mine Act”) – which was enacted in response to the Scotia Disaster in Letcher County, Kentucky, on March 9 & 11, 1976 (26 killed) – have literally saved the lives of thousands of American miners in the past 5 1/2 decades. But having represented the families of miners killed because of unsafe conditions, I can attest to the never-ending pain that such disasters cause.

Not surprisingly, the American coal industry opposed both of these life-saving mine safety laws, as well as the passage of every other meaningful mine safety regulation that has been enacted in the past 55 years. The coal industry has labeled itself as the “Friends of Coal” for political purposes, but it only cares about miners so long as they do exactly what they are told to do and don’t complain about unsafe or unhealthy working conditions.

When miners insist on a safe and healthy workplace, they are frequently fired for their efforts, which is why I – with my colleague Wes Addington of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law center – am still filing safety discrimination cases on behalf of miners who have been discharged or otherwise discriminated against because of making safety complaints or refusing to work in unsafe conditions. In that regard, very little has changed in the mining industry…

3 thoughts on “55 Years Ago: The Farmington Mine Disaster”
  1. I too was a college freshman (in Ohio) and remember that day very well. It was of course a significant impetus to the subsequent passage of the Mine Safety and OSHA acts. A year or two later we were active helping the campaign of Miners for Democracy candidate Arnold Miller who was able to with the presidency of the UMWA from Tony Boyle after the murder of Jock Yablonski.

  2. I have had the privilege of working with Tony and Wes on multiple occasions in the past 10 years. I am completely convinced that they have the best interest of their clients in mind. On one occasion, Mr. Oppegard told me I should not retire, but continue working for the “health and safety “ of the miners. I’m still working. The Coal Operators that I am familiar with have little, if any regard for individual miners. The men and women in our coal fields have become…disposable. It is a sad state and reminiscent of the “redneck” days of pre-union mining. I have personally witnessed the most callous and inhuman behavior imaginable by agents of Coal Operators. I recently told my wife of 38 years that I knew no one who I disliked enough to put them to work in today’s coal mine. Now is the time to change our industry and we remember how. Get it done.

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