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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Comments

  • 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.....

  • TINMAN

    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.

    • 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?

      • marcus

        And you sound like a moron!

    • 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.

  • 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

    Sad.

  • Judy

    Unreal! I hope and pray he goes to jail for these murders. You media folks keep giving him a platform. WHY? What a scumbag

  • Miner

    Don't give this guy air time unless someone familiar with the MSHA report is present everything presented in Massey report was put to rest in the other reports. The Massey report was written and presented by high paid hit men and they care nothing about miners only the all mighty dollar! Blankenship will answer someday we have to believe that!

  • Brad

    I think Blankenship is actually correct about this. Massey had the mine properly ventilated and the feds made them re-do it, which created a dangerous situation.

  • wvu999

    Dear Friends of Coal and Republican Party

    This is your spokes person. Be proud. Be very proud.

    West Virginia is a safer place with Don Profit over Lives Blankenship.

    Never forget that at a private function before UBB happened and after the Sago Mine Disaster that Don said that the deaths of those men were "statistically insignificant" in the grand scheme of coal mining in West Virginia.

    I hope he gets caught up somehow in this Mingo crap so that he can spend some time in the pen where he belongs.

    • OldSkool

      Blankenship is no spokesmen for me. This guy was rude, arrogant and callous. Very ungrateful to his host, Hoppy. He did make a few good points about the ventilation system, etc though.

    • Billy Buck Bodeen

      Don't blame Friends of Coal and the Republican party for Don Blankenship..I am not taking up for Blankenship because but he put the coal industry back 50 years in safety in his mines..BUT...I witnessed an explosion in the 70's due to MSHA forcing the mines to cut down the ventilation (flow of air) to lower the dust levels and it was not enough to push the methane out of the pockets in the roof. This act by MSHA killed 3 men and injured 6 others..MSHA swept this one under the rug real fast...

      • Dead Cold Hands

        Most posting on this board hasn't a clue, and I really hate saying this, but most of the MSHA employees I've had to interact with in their field offices in southern West Virginia are 'bout as smart as a jar of peanut butter. Most of them could spell MSHA but because they are cousins with some good ole boy they have a job....

        • Shadow

          An interesting comment which is very plausible when one looks at the investigation and the secrecy involved.

  • Tony

    I thought the interview was important. Whether you like or dislike Don Blankenship, the fact remains that when WV history is written about this era we live in, DB will be a towering figure in the pages. He's a notorious mine operator that will be known forever kind of like any student of WV history knows of Justus Collins.

  • Woodchuck

    Don may not be perfect, but when you put your life in the hands of government, you should not be surprised by this outcome.

    The mine was inspected many times and where are these inspectors? They still have jobs with no worry for jail time. The miners are lost.

    If you can't sue the government, how responsible will they be?

    Don does twist the facts his way. The government does the same. Who would you rather believe? I don't believe either.

    Sad for the families.

    • syd

      what an assinine statement. I guess police should be sued whenever someone is killed by a drunk driver.

      • coal miner

        If a police officer pulled over a drunk driver and let that driver go knowing that he was drunk and that driver stuck and killed a person, then yes that police officer should be sued. MSHA inspects these mines almost daily and sees the same things that the operators do. If they make operators change plans to their liking and stuff like this happens then yes they should face punishment just as the operators do. I had co-workers that were killed in the UBB blast and I think that MSHA played a very large part in that explosion. I think that the operator was to blame as well, but MSHA and MHST isn't innocent either.

  • RHytonen

    Remember who have CORRUPTED the likes of Congress (fed & state,) the courts, MSHA, OSHA, DEP and EPA; to GET the requirements (and penalties) cut, and ignored in 'enforcement.'

  • RHytonen

    Hell holds a very special place for these greedy murderous lying scum.

  • thornton

    DB is slippery along with being skilled in interviews....but personally, I don't think Hoppy was flapping his gums all that much.
    Basically, the interview appeared a waste of air time....more was to be gained by considering the religiot snake-handlers and the few of their number who use that practice as a road to Wastrelville.

    But, I expect is that there are germs of truth in what DB says as I have zero faith in all involved in the analysis and resolution of any matter re Coal. .....Company to Union to the Feds.

  • Benny

    It is absolutely disgusting that you gave this guy air time. Unbelievable.

    • WSC

      All I have to say is God bless our hard working miners and their families! I respect them! Now let's look at southern WV. I was recently in the Logan area and to be honest it depressed me! I saw a run down, used up infrastructure, a community that helped our nation by providing cost effective energy to a growing nation! The coal companies made billions! But you can't even get cell service! The roads are horrible, the towns are falling apart. And as the coal industry dwindles, this is what they leave behind! Like I said, some of the hardest working good people in the world live here and I respect them! But for all the hard work and sacrifices our mining families and community have made, is this what is left?

      • WVblackgold

        God is the only entity looking out for those miners anymore, and He doesn't seem to be doing a bit of good.

        It's time for these communities to start organizing and start putting some real working people in the state house in Charleston, instead of yet another corporate shill with ties to coal company Management.

        • bald headed pig cop

          yeppers... god cares about us.. just ask all those phillipinos killed last week.