CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The former CEO of the Massey Energy says the company is not to blame for the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.

“UBB was the result of MSHA’s ventilation changes and a natural gas inundation.  It had nothing to do with any of the things that are commonly reported in the news,” said Don Blankenship on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

During an hour long appearance on the show, he repeatedly criticized the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, the United Mine Workers of America and West Virginia’s media.

More than three years after the explosion that killed 29 coal miners at the UBB Mine near Montcoal in Raleigh County, what was the worst mine disaster in the United States in almost four decades, Blankenship defended Massey and its workers and maintained the massive explosion was due to a large amount of natural gas and not the result of a buildup of coal dust as several investigations concluded.

Blankenship said three factors contributed to the explosion.

“One, you’re cutting sandstone which, you know, puts you at the risk of sparks.  Two, you’ve got a huge natural gas inundation that was unforeseen and not properly analyzed when it occurred in the industry and area in the past.  And, third, you had a ventilation system that the air on the face was cut in half because of MSHA demands.  That’s what caused the explosion,” he said.

Investigators with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration concluded flagrant safety violations contributed to what they determined was a coal dust explosion, not a natural gas explosion.  MSHA investigators said UBB was not properly rock dusted, allowing explosive coal dust to build up, thus enhancing the deadly blast.

Federal officials said they found evidence of only a small amount of methane that contacted with a spark from the longwall machine and dismissed Massey’s claims of a massive inundation of gas.

A separate independent investigation, focused on UBB, strongly condemned MSHA, but also Massey for failing to “meet basic safety standards” and concluded UBB was a man-made disaster that could have been prevented.  That report said the explosion started with a spark at the face and was fueled by accumulated coal dust, because of improper rock dusting, throughout the mine.

“A company that was a towering presence in the Appalachian coal fields operated its mines in a profoundly reckless manner and 29 coal miners paid with their lives for the corporate risk taking,” read the independent report which said inadequate ventilation lead to a build up of explosive gases.

The investigation from the state Office of Miner’s Health, Safety and Training concluded combustible materials and gases accumulated due to poor ventilation practices.  State officials agreed a spark at the face ignited a pocket of methane.  However, the state investigation rejected Massey’s assertion that there was a sudden and large influx of gas.

Blankenship dismissed those reports, saying federal investigators were in the UBB Mine almost daily before the explosion to monitor rock dusting and other safety requirements.  “Basically, the 29 coal miners that were the victims of the explosion are being accused of not rock dusting the mine, not maintaining the shear, not caring about their own lives or the coal mine and all that is insane,” he said.

He said he does now wish he had fought MSHA more on its ventilation requirements.

“It wasn’t until Obama came into office and wrote thousands of violations, took over the ventilation system and the management of the mine that we had the explosion,” he said.  “I should have laid down in the road and stopped them, but I fought them harder than anyone in the industry, and they certainly are not doing the right thing today and they didn’t do the right thing at UBB.”

A mother of one of the men who died at UBB called into MetroNews “Talkline” and challenged Blankenship.  “My son was miles away from the explosion, why did it get to him so quickly?” she asked.

“What happens, of course, when you have an explosion, the force of the explosion, even if the fire is not spreading, takes the oxygen, almost, out of your body.  It’s like being where you can’t breathe and people that were a long way from it were impacted by the explosion which is so confined within the coal mine,” he responded.

He did not answer her question about why he has not cooperated with the UBB investigation.

On his website, Blankenship calls himself a “American Competitionist.”  He started working for Massey Energy in 1982 and left the company in December 2010, the same year as the UBB Disaster, shortly before Alpha Natural Resources bought Massey in early 2011.

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  • BH

    This man has no respect for human life. He's a disgusting piece of trash.

  • Death to Democracy

    Oh Donny-boy would have been wise to answer Hoppy’s every question with “It’s George Bush’s fault” –

  • Harpers Ferry

    There's a special place in hell reserved for Don.

  • Shadow

    As I remember, Massey and their photographer were excluded from the team that investigated the explosion. From what I have seen, when you exclude intelligence from the solution to a problem, you have already made you mind up to the cause and are looking for facts to substantiate your conclusions. Therefore, the report is suspect to my mind. No one really evaluated Massey's conclusions.

  • steve

    I cant believe that you gave this guy airtime..........he should be under the jail .......I've hear too many people that worked for massy talk of their belligerent theory x management style..This guy will lie with the best of them...He doesn't deserve to even speak to he public as the public is tired of hearing lies

  • wvman75

    I may not totally believe Blankenship, but I trust the government even less.

    • Death to Democracy

      We have special camps for you-- we'll teach you not to trust the government...

  • Hoppy Kercheval

    For some reason, Don Blankenship's comments are not coming up at the top of the page. If you would like to read them, go to the bottom of the page and click on "older comments."

    • Death to Democracy

      Of course they are not-- good job Hoppy!! Howard Monroe's influence is starting to pay off

  • Jethro

    A despicable man who has blood on his hands.

    Pure evil.

  • Too Low

    I would not want to take up for or hold up for Don Blankenship in any way but however MSHA dispelled the idea; that natural gas inundation caused the UBB Disaster .. In the same coal seam not very far from UBB I understand that a gas inundation Just like the type Massey described happen on November the 8 at the Brody Mine. Everyone was removed from the I was told .And then a state mine inspector went to this area on a pillar section and found a large inundation of a gas that had a strange smell coming from a crack in the mine floor just like Massey Energy described that they think happen at UBB. As the crow fly's both mines are not that far away.. I know several people that work there.

  • Don

    I appreciated that all of you all listened to the interview. Whatever you think of me remember that in this day of technology a proper accident investigation is done with science and technology. Gas has a DNA essentially. Its easy for a chemist to tell if its coal bed methane or shale gas.

    Explosions of gas behave differently than explosions of coal dust. As to determining why an explosion occurred the truth comes from samples and scientific testing.

    The truth cannot be determined from
    from who said what or what job they have or
    what we may think of them personally or what we wish were true. God's laws of physics and science are the same for all of us.

    I agree that i could have been more cordial to Hoppy. If that offends some of you i am sorry. However the victims families, the hundreds of others whose lives were changed by this accident, and the people losing their jobs in the industry today as well as future generations of miners deserve the truth and that can't be determined in this case by what a financial hedge fund manager in NY thinks of a mine safety plan.

    I spent much of my life creating coal mine safety enhancements and enforcing safety rules. Doing an interview such as the one today has no upside for me personally. However it has the potential to improve coal mine safety.

    MSHA is turning off continuous miner scrubbers at many mines. This has no upside for miners. It not only puts more dust in the the air and slows the removal of gas from the miner working area it also allows more float dust to accumulate in the return airways. In short its bad for miners health and safety.

    There is always the possibility i am wrong but there is never the reality that i am untruthful about safety or miners health and welfare. If the interview brought some attention to the issues miners face today then the interview will have served its purpose.

    Thanks again for listening and being involved and thanks to Hoppy for having me on the show. If you haven't visited or please do so. Again you may not believe what i say and i will not always be correct but i do believe what i say and what i write until i learn something that changes my mind.

    Also i encourage all of you to exercise your freedom of speech. Many efforts have been made to take mine away. It is the most important protection against government tyrants that we have.

    • Miner

      No Blankenship the only thing I will hear or read about you will be transcripts from your trial.
      Hoppy ask him why attached to each of the vent changes was a cover letter from PCC to the district manager asking him to approve PCC ventilation plan?
      Hoppy ask him why he paid large amounts of money to a man who was never in a coal mine to be his expert on coal mine blasts.
      Hoppy ask him how he sleeps at night? Because real miners know about his culture.
      Hoppy ask him why his scrubber plan was revoked because his SOP would not allow his miners to clean the screen after each cut. What really killed him was that his deep cut was taken away by the loss of scrubber plan.
      Hoppy ask what his stone will say about him when he is gone!

  • Gilbert Gnarley

    Hey folks, take it easy for Don didn't use that ol' dependable "Act of God" to explain mine explosions.

    Don's an honest job creator, savvy businessman, and his acumen is insightful and unequaled; a humble competitionist, investor, humanitarian, entrepreneur, visionary, progressive............

    Sorry, must stop typing my comment...nose getting in way......can't see keyboard.....


    I have never worked inside a mine but my dad &brother did (now are paying for it phiscaly ).I often herd dad talk about gas sencers on miners that would shut the machine off when it senced gas. Was these sencors working or was they bypassed ??

  • GregG

    This sorry piece of flesh know as Don Blankenship is really a piece of work. And how people can bow to him like some televangelist is beyond me. He and greedy people just like him are the very reason this country is in the shape it is in. And we want to empower more of his kind? Enjoy.

    • billyed

      You're so right GregG
      Don Blankenship is a perfect example of GOP politics. Don wants to buy elections and judges seats, receive special tax breaks and loopholes, weaken and trash talk the EPA to the point, the EPA can no longer protect workers, environment and citizens. Don blames God when something terrible happens.

    • Not Me

      You sound like a big girly

      • GregG

        So your saying that the death of 29 sons, husbands and fathers because of one persons greed is ok?

  • MoMoney

    Connect the dots. It is fact that the federal regulators made the company change the ventilation system before the blast. The independent investigation strongly condemned MSHA, and Massey. It cited the "independent report which said inadequate ventilation lead to a build up of explosive gases."
    Don't blame the miners, saying they didn't do their jobs by not spreading lime over the coal dust. MSHA cannot be in a position to investigate itself. Only a CYA report can come from MSHA when in this position.
    Somehow MSHA and the federal regulators missed having any responsibility. CYA.

  • JTC