UBB Mine Superintendent Charged with Conspiracy

Charging Gary May in an information suggests he may be cooperating with authorities in prosecuting top personnel at Massey Energy, the company that owned the Upper Big Branch mine.

An information filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of West Virginia charges Gary May, who was superintendent at the Upper Big Branch mine on April 5, 2010, when an explosion killed 29 miners inside it, with conspiring to conceal and cover up hazards from MSHA inspectors and, in one instance, to order someone to falsify examination record books to omit a hazardous condition.

The hazardous condition was water at a depth that made it unsafe to travel a certain area of the mine, according to the information filed on Feb. 22.

That May was charged via an information suggests he may be cooperating with federal authorities in a prosecution of higher officials then at Massey Energy, which owned the UBB mine at the time of the explosion. Massey was later acquired by Alpha Natural Resources, which agreed in December 2011 to pay a record $209 million in fines, restitution to victims, and safety improvements in a settlement with federal officials. The top official at Massey at that time was Don Blankenship, who has not been charged in the UBB case.

When the settlement was announced, MSHA said it had imposed a fine of $10,825,368, the largest in its history, as a result of its investigation into the explosion and had issued 369 citations and orders -- including for an unprecedented 21 flagrant violations -- to Massey and to Performance Coal Company, a subsidiary that operated the mine at the time of the explosion.

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