Coal Tattoo

As we reported in our print edition over the weekend, Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship held an invitation-only meeting with members of the media on Friday afternoon. In that print story, I focused on Massey’s assertion that its decision not to drill degasification wells following methane “outbursts” in 2003 and 2004 at the Upper Big Branch Mine had the blessing of federal regulators:

Massey officials said the company opted instead to focus on trying to direct more fresh air toward the mine’s working face to avoid a gas inundation of the sort Massey believes led to the April 5 explosion that killed 29 miners.

Massey CEO Don Blankenship said the company switched gears on the issue in response to updated recommendations from federal agencies and an agreement at the time with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration about the best course of action.

“I don’t know of any degassing,” Blankenship said. “My understanding of the conclusion that both MSHA and Massey reached at the time was that the answer was more air.”

Howard Berkes over at NPR explained in his piece that Blankenship:

… Kept returning to several central themes: news stories about the coal mining giant unfairly suggest blame; reporters should focus more attention on the failures of federal regulators; and those regulators are keeping Massey from operating safely and determining the true cause of the massive explosion in April that killed 29 mine workers at the company’s Upper Big Branch mine.

Indeed, much of the meeting focused on ground we’ve been over before: Massey’s belief that the April 5 mine disaster was caused by an uncontrollable flood of methane gas into Upper Big Branch, that MSHA was forcing Massey to use a ventilation plan the company didn’t believe was as safe as possible, and that MSHA has wrongly ordered Massey to stop using scrubbers to control dust in underground mines.

There was other coverage of Friday’s meeting with Blankenship from The Associated Press, Bloomberg,  and West Virginia Media. And in a new piece today, The Wall Street Journal addresses meetings this week of Massey’s board of directors about a potential sale of the company, an issue Blankenship declined to talk about in any detail on Friday.

Friday’s more than two-hour meeting with Blankenship did produce a few tidbits of other news.

For example, Blankenship said he understands Massey has reached settlements — they are in various stages of approval by the parties and a court — with 9 or 10 of the families of miners killed at Upper Big Branch. And I asked Blankenship if he would take the 5th or testify if he received a subpoena from investigators looking into the mine disaster:

What I would do, I don’t have any idea, because I haven’t been subpoenaed.

I’ve posted the entire audio of the meeting here