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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.


  • John Haury

    Vent the mines!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Use absolute enforcement policy that is in place at the first sight of non compliance!
    Men that want to can do whats right. Work harder as management to protect your brothers in the mines. Its not rocket science.

    John Haury

  • Guest 5.

    If you have a mine safety agency and body at a state and government level applying safety standards on a level playing field meaning federal basis for defined and different types of mining. If said agency finds a breach of safety at a mine, then the only appeal should be to the Federal safety board. If the two boards agree then the mine operator must fix it as instructed.
    If the mining company feels aggrieved and that the safety laws /rules were not validly applied he can sue the government state or federal or both for the unnecessary cost incurred, and damages.
    What is intolerable is that he can take the matter to the courts and for years delay corrective action which in this case resulted in 29 deaths.
    I say apply the oil rig industry law that say’s miners my stop work without loss of pay until a safety risk they see is fixed.
    That for sure will concentrate minds on mutually fixing the problem.
    Guest 5.