This memorial wall was erected to honor the 29 miners who died in the Upper Big Branch Mine South explosion on April 5, 2010. (MSHA photo)

WV Senator Denounces 'Upper Big Branch – Never Again' Documentary

Don Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy, had it made to challenge MSHA's conclusion that the explosion four years ago in which 29 miners died resulted from basic safety violations and was a coal dust explosion that started as a methane ignition.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration determined that the explosion inside Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch South mine on April 5, 2010, was a coal dust explosion that started as a methane ignition. MSHA issued the largest fine in its history, $10,825,368, after finding that Massey's corporate culture was the root cause of the tragedy and that basic safety violations by the company led to the explosion, which killed 29 miners. Massey Energy eventually was acquired by Alpha Natural Resources, which agreed to spend at least $210 million on mine safety improvements, mine safety research, restitution to families of the miners who died, and $35 million to resolve pending Massey safety fines – including the MSHA fine.

The U.S. attorney for southern West Virginia, Booth Goodwin, reached that agreement with Alpha but continued to investigate the disaster. He has obtained three convictions of mine managers, including David Hughart, a former Massey division president, sentenced to 42 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to defraud the government by thwarting MSHA inspections and a misdemeanor count of conspiracy to violate MSHA standards; former UBB Superintendent Gary May, sentenced to 21 months in prison after admitting to one felony count of conspiracy to thwart federal government mine safety efforts; and former UBB Security Director Hughie Elbert Stover, sentenced to 36 months in jail after he was convicted in a jury trial of two felonies, making a false statement and obstructing the government's mine disaster probe.

Now, on the eve of the explosion’s fourth anniversary, Massey Energy's CEO at the time of the explosion, Don Blankenship, has created a documentary film titled "Upper Big Branch -- Never Again" to challenge MSHA's conclusions about the cause of the explosion. And U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who appears in the documentary, has denounced it, saying he was deceived by the production company, Adroit Films.

Manchin sent a letter April 1 to Chesapeake, Va.-based Adroit Films, demanding that the documentary be removed from all websites, that Adroit discontinue distributing the film, and that it delete from the film all references to Manchin’s name, image, and representation. Manchin said his office had tried repeatedly to contact Adroit Films by phone and email.

Blankenship announced the documentary's release on March 31 on his Twitter page, @DonBlankenship, and has been tweeting to his more than 2,000 followers about TV appearances he's making to promote it.

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OH&S Digital Edition

  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - January February 2021

    January February 2021

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