This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable

In the coal: The Upper Big Branch disaster

Update: We reported in our broadcast that Massey Energy executive Don Blankenship was expected to testify on December 14 in the ongoing federal-state investigations of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. Late in the day on Friday, December 10 Blankenship, through his attorney, said he would decline to appear to testify, exercising his Fifth Amendment rights.

On the Watch List, our regular series about the people and agencies charged with overseeing our health and safety, we examine what went wrong at the Upper Big Branch mine in April of this year, when a portion of the mine blew up, killing 29 men. The U.S. government called the explosion “the worst mining disaster in almost 40 years.” The mine is owned by Massey Energy, the sixth largest mining company in America.

Last week, Massey Energy CEO and chairman, Don Blankenship, announced his retirement after working at Massey for nearly three decades. Blankenship’s retirement goes into effect December 31st.

We sent correspondent John Larson to find out what is known about the cause of the blast and to ask if this tragedy could have been prevented.