Former CEO of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, has been indicted for his role in the Upper Big Ranch Mine explosion in West Virginia in 2010.
According to the Associated Press (AP), Blankenship has been charged with multiple accounts of conspiracy. The indictment states Blankenship knew the coal mine had numerous safety violations, and did not address any of the violations even though he had the ability to do so since January 2008 to April 2010. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that in the indictment there also were handwritten messages from Blankenship to other executives at the mine. In the messages Blankenship instructed them to put the coal extraction ahead of dealing with the ventilation issues. In another note, Blankenship told other executives not to install bolts that would reinforce the roof of the mine.
Since 2010, three other former Massey managers have also been convicted. David Hughart, who was not present at the mine, did plead guilty to conspiracy charges and testified that Blankenship instructed him to warn the miners of impending inspections. The second, Gary May, was convicted to falsifying records and tampering with a methane gas monitor placed at the mine. Lastly, Hughie Elbert Stover, who was the head of Massey Security, was charged with obstructing federal investigators.
According to the AP, several investigations concluded that a spark from cutting equipment ignited a mixture of coal dust and methane gas. Due to faulty water sprayers, the explosion spread and killed 29 people. The disaster is recorded as the deadliest American mining incident to occur the past 40 years.
In 2012, Alpha Natural Resources purchased Massey for $7.1 billion. Before the merger was completed, Blankenship retired from Massey. According to the WSJ, since acquiring Massey, Alpha, even though it was not operating the mine at the time, has paid $209 million to settle criminal and civil penalties caused by the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.