Last updated: March 28. 2014 1:40AM - 1751 Views
By Dave Boucher Charleston Daily Mail

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The man who headed Massey Energy at the time of one of the worst coal mine disasters in U.S. history is funding a documentary about “what really happened.”

Former coal executive Don Blankenship told the Daily Mail Wednesday he has funded a documentary about the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, which claimed the lives of 29 miners on April 5, 2010.

“For now all I care to say is that I have funded a documentary to explain what happened at UBB and to hopefully help avoid it happening again,” Blankenship said in an email.

The documentary will be out next week _ the same week as the four-year anniversary of the explosion at the Raleigh County mine _ according to a tweet from Blankenship’s personal Twitter account.

“In honor of UBB victims and … miner fatalities since I retired a documentary will be out next week on what really happened at UBB,” Blankenship tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

Blankenship provided no other details about the project.

The disaster and Blankenship have been the subject of numerous documentaries, though this is likely the first funded by the former CEO.

Facing serious scrutiny and public outcry over the disaster, Blankenship resigned from his position with Massey Energy in December 2010.

Many blame Blankenship and the company for the disaster.

In public statements since leaving the company Blankenship has defended its actions and denounced reports that lay any blame on Massey for the disaster. In November he told radio host Hoppy Kercheval the disaster came as a result of “MSHA ventilation changes and natural gas inundation.”

The Mine Safety and Health Administration, a state investigation and a report by J. Davitt McAteer _ a former coal official under President Bill Clinton _ all concluded these were not the causes.

Instead, these reports point to poor ventilation, dangerous amounts of coal dust, a corporate atmosphere that valued profit over safety and a poor safety record.

Blankenship disputes the validity of those reports.

Alpha Natural Resources purchased Massey in June of 2011 for $7.1 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal. In February a federal judge gave preliminary approval to a proposed $265 million settlement to former Massey investors who say they were mislead about the company’s safety record prior to the disaster, according to the Associated Press.

Blankenship has never been criminally charged for the disaster and has repeatedly denied any criminal actions.

Others in leadership positions with Massey have faced charges.

In January 2013 former UBB superintendent Gary May was sentenced to 21-months in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy charges. His request to vacate the sentence was recently denied, but he filed an appeal in February.

Former security chief Hughie Elbert Stover was sentenced to 36 months imprisonment after he lied to investigators and told a subordinate to destroy documents after the UBB disaster, according to The Associated Press. A federal appeals court affirmed the lower court’s ruling in the case in late 2012.

Another former Massey executive, David Hughart, received 42 months in jail in September 2013 after pleading guilty to charges related to giving advanced notice of MSHA inspections. During court proceedings Hughart implied Blankenship was involved.

Blankenship and his attorneys have denied those allegations.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin confirmed Wednesday his office’s investigation into Massey and the disaster is ongoing.


Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


(c)2014 Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.)

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