Posts tagged Don Blankenship
Posts tagged Don Blankenship
The federal government has just released its report on the Massey Energy mine explosion, which killed 29 West Virginia miners in April 2010. The key revelation is shocking even for those familiar with Massey’s willingness to endanger miners’ lives whenever greater profits could be attained by ignoring risks.
The feds’ explosive finding: Massey kept two sets of safety records in order to prevent federal inspectors from learning about the severe hazards in the Upper Big Branch mine that Massey officials already knew about. For its own needs, Massey had to keep a record of safety problems, malfunctioning equipment, maintenance needs and other operational details in the mine.
But in a separate record book required by the federal Mine Health and Safety Administration and regularly reviewed by the MHSA, Massey officials systematically deleted any references to the dangers that they had observed first-hand.
This is really important news. We know from previous reports and investigations (that I’ve blogged about in numerous posts) that Massey was disabling methane sensors to increase profit margins. This information is important because it shows that Massey fully understood (and even thoroughly documented) the safety violations: this was a case of malicious intent to circumvent safety laws for increased profits, not simply a case of ineptitude or ignorance. Will our government officials hold Massey and Don Blankenship accountable for the people they murdered to increase their profit margins? No, probably not.
Buried within the damning report released yesterday on the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster that killed 29 workers last year were some interesting details about what could lie ahead for Massey Energy, its executives, and the safety of its operations.
The report, which was commissioned by West Virginia’s former governor, noted that 18 current and former executives invoked their Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination and refused to cooperate with investigators. Nonetheless, investigators concluded that the preventable disaster was a result of a “total and catastrophic systemic failure” by Massey Energy.
“It is only in the context of a culture bent on production at the expense of safety that these obvious deviations from decades of known safety practices make sense,” the report said. It also noted that the company’s practices haven’t improved much—if at all—since the disaster occurred.
“More than a year after 29 men died in the Upper Big Branch mine, there is strong evidence that Massey has not changed the manner in which it operates its mines,” the report said.
Investigators said the coal giant had “used the leverage of jobs it provided to attempt to control West Virginia’s political system,” casting inspectors, regulators, and even politicians and community residents as enemies. According to the report, the company’s former CEO, Don Blankenship instilled fear in local politicians by spending “vast amounts of money to influence elections.”
As we have noted, Blankenship received $2 million when he retired at the end of last year, and is scheduled to receive another $10 million in July. He’s expected to stay on as a consultant.
Other top executives are faring just fine too, it seems. Shortly after Blankenship’s retirement, another company, Alpha Natural Resources, announced an agreement to buy Massey Energy, but Massey executives still scored some key management roles.
Notably, Massey’s Chief Operating Officer, Chris Adkins, will oversee Alpha’s main safety program along with another Alpha executive. According to the report, “Adkins’ history makes him a questionable choice to run a safety program. One need look no further than [Upper Big Branch],” investigators said.
Massey Energy is a company willing to kill people to increase it’s profit margin, and it’s not changing. 29 human being died needlessly because orders came down from the top to disable the methane sensors in order to save money. A union could have helped enforce the safety regulations: according to United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, “if these miners were members of a union, they would have been able to refuse unsafe work…and would not have been subjected to that kind of atrocious conditions”.
But remember, in the eyes of Massey ex-CEO (now a consultant), Union Busting is invaluable to the bottom line!
An independent state probe in West Virginia concludes that mining giant, Massey Energy, was responsible for the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 underground coal mining workers. It echoes preliminary findings by federal investigators earlier this year that Massey repeatedly violated federal rules on ventilation and minimizing coal dust to reduce the risk of explosion, and rejects Massey’s claim that a burst of gas from a hole in the mine floor was at fault. The report also notes Massey’s strong political influence, which it uses “to attempt to control West Virginia’s political system” and regulatory bodies.
I’ve been covering Massey energy’s abhorrent safety violations for the better part of a year. The evidence that they purposefully disable safety measures when they stop work continues to pile up, and this probe confirms the NPR investigation’s conclusions: Massey made their mine into a death trap in order to save money.
Previously: A mine in West Virginia owned by Massey exploded, killing several workers. Investigation by NPR determined that Massey had the methane sensors that are required by law (because they help prevent explosions) were disabled. While Don Blankenship ran Massey it was common practice to disabled methane sensors. Don Blankenship stepped down from his position last December. Ten days ago, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) confirmed that it was methane that caused the explosion:
"We still stand by our point that all mine explosions are preventable," concluded Kevin Stricklin, MSHA’s mine safety chief.
The maintenance and equipment failures “should have been caught [by Massey Energy] during normal operations,” said Joe Main, assistant labor secretary for mine safety and health.
Still, Massey continues to deny any and all culpability, instead saying that an abundance of natural gas suddenly flooded the mine. The explosion could be felt as far as two miles away, making this claim dubious (at best, deceptive at worst):
"Our investigation and our view of the evidence suggests that an explosion caused by an inundation of natural gas or methane is not supported by the evidence," says Davitt McAteer, a former MSHA official conducting an independent Upper Big Branch probe for West Virginia’s governor.
McAteer says the heaviest damage in the mine is in areas far from the suspected ignition point. An explosion fueled by a gas inundation would cause more damage near the source of the blast, he says.
Another investigator questions a Massey claim that natural gas was detected emanating from a crack in the mine floor after the explosion.
"We have taken gas measurements and no-one has detected any gas from that crack," says Dennis O’Dell, the mine safety director of the United Mine Workers of America, which represents coal miners in the Upper Big Branch investigation.
"This is yet another page in Massey’s PR playbook to deflect blame from itself," says Phil Smith, spokesman for the United Mineworkers of America. "They continue to use so-called ‘facts’ to attempt to obfuscate the underlying conditions at this mine that caused this disaster – conditions for which the company was responsible."
Massey is selling itself to Alpha Natural Resources which has a much better safety record and name recognition. It’s a good deal for both companies, but that’s not really the point:
But just as important, the combination is also likely to help Massey move past its legal woes arising from safety violations like the Upper Big Branch explosion last year that killed 29 people.
Mr. Crutchfield [CEO of Alpha] said that he planned to draw on his company’s cleaner safety and environmental record to help resolve Massey’s legal issues, which he conceded would take time.
“I think we’ve established a pretty credible track record with regards to safety and environmental stewardship,” he said. “The goal is to run the combined company in the same manner.”
So, 29 miners are left dead, the profits for Massey’s Board and CEO that allowed the safety incursions have been maximized. and their legal culpability minimized. Ain’t corporate America grand?