A $25,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of whoever sabotaged a natural gas pipeline owned by Warrior Met Coal Inc. in Brookwood.
The Alabama Mining Association announced the reward hours after a late Wednesday night explosion sent local, state and federal law enforcement investigators to Black Warrior Methane Corp., which falls under parent company Warrior Met Coal.
A spokesman for Warrior Met Coal described the explosion as an “attack” related to the ongoing United Mine Workers of America strike against the coal company, which is nearing its one-year anniversary.
“Warrior Met Coal and its subsidiaries have always focused on the safety of our employees and the communities in which we live and operate,” said D’Andre Wright, a spokesperson for the Warrior Met Coal, in a news release issued by the Alabama Mining Association. “We believe today’s attack on our pipeline facilities was related to the ongoing labor dispute.
“As a critical infrastructure industry, it is imperative we protect our assets from acts of violence and vandalism to ensure public safety.”
United Mine Workers of America spokesman Phil Smith said the union “condemns violence in any form, whether it be the violence the company continues to subject our members and their families to by needlessly prolonging this strike, or any other violent act.
“Both sides need to be working to settle this strike.”
Deputy Jessica McDaniel, spokeswoman for the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, said the sheriff’s office began receiving 911 calls reporting an explosion just after 11:40 p.m. Wednesday.
Deputies, along with Tuscaloosa County investigators and an explosive ordnance disposal team, responded to an area near Hannah Creek Road and Sandlin Mountain Road, which is near an entrance to a coal mine operated by Warrior Met Coal Inc.
“A gas line explosion was discovered,” McDaniel said.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s bomb squad were then notified and also responded, she said, with the ATF subsequently taking over the investigation.
Now, agents with both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating, FBI spokesperson Paul Daymond said.
Patrick Cagle, president of Alabama Mining Association, called on all members of the mining community to condemn the attack.
“No one who shares the values of Alabama’s 21st century mining community would participate in, stand by, or stay silent about this dangerous, inexcusable attack,” Cagle said. “Today’s events should be universally and categorically denounced.
“The mining industry prides itself on prioritizing safety above everything else, and this attack is ultimately an attack on what we stand for.”
April 1 will mark the one-year anniversary since 1,100 unionized coal miners for Warrior Met Coal took to the picket line, citing unfair labor practices.
A tentative agreement between the United Mine Workers of America and the company was announced five days later. But its ratification, in accordance with the UMWA's constitution, was dependent on a vote of the union members, who ultimately rejected that deal and the strike has carried on ever since.
Reports of violence between the striking coal miners and the temporary workers brought in by Warrior Met Coal began surfacing soon after the strike began, with the union reporting incidents of vehicular assault on picket lines.
In response, Warrior Met Coal sought and obtained an injunction through Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court to keep picketers 500 yards from coal mine entrances in order to maintain a safe environment for its employees, “including those actively at work and those currently on strike,” a company spokesperson said last year.
“This injunction was put in place due to unlawful activity on the picket lines early during the strike, to allow for peaceful ingress and egress to our facilities, as well as maintain public safety,” the spokesperson said. “Among other items, the injunction specifically prohibits picketers from interfering, hindering or obstructing ingress and egress to the company’s properties. This is a stressful situation for all individuals involved, and continued violations of the injunction have resulted in recent incidents.”
Now, the Alabama Mining Association’s $25,000 reward for information on this week’s pipeline explosion goes alongside a $10,000 reward it offered last year for information on another act of vandalism to Warrior Met Coal’s property.
The association, which describes itself as dedicated to the promotion of safe and sustainable mining of natural resources “that strengthen our infrastructure and grow our economy,” said that reward was for information leading the arrest and conviction of whoever intentionally damaged electrical transmission and distribution equipment on Warrior Met Coal’s property on three nights in May and June 2021.
Officials have said that no one was hurt in any of these acts that caused damage on Warrior Met Coal property.
“While no injuries are known to have occurred, the threat to lives and property posed by this irresponsible and illegal attack is tremendous,” a coal company spokesman said. “We are cooperating fully with the ongoing investigation and expect those involved will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Anyone with information regarding this pipeline explosion was asked to contact either the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives through the ATF Tip Line at 888-283-8477 the FBI’s Birmingham Field Office at 205-326-6166 or through FBI website at https://tips.fbi.gov/.
Information regarding the 2021 vandalism of Warrior Met Coal’s electrical transmission and distribution equipment was asked to call the Tuscaloosa County Sherriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division at 205-464-8652.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Reach Jason Morton at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Warrior Met Coal pipe explosion being investigated by law enforcement