27 April 2010

Massey Speaks

The Associated Press was among those covering the news conference held by Massey Energy to address several issues related to the nation's worst coal mining disaster in 40 years.

Chairman and Chief Executive Don Blankenship spoke to reporters and fielded questions along with three Massey board members. Among other topics, the officials detailed conditions at Upper Big Branch before the explosion, responded to regulatory actions that preceded the blast and criticisms leveled since, outlined compensation packages to the killed miners' families and continued to relay condolences to them.

More specifically:

  • Massey has yet to identify what caused the explosion, and its internal investigation continues.
  • Safety checks and gas readings taken "tens of minutes" before the blast offered no signs of the impending disaster, and instead indicated "everything was OK."
  • Massey disagreed with a push by federal regulators to change the mine's ventilation plan, and said it made that system more complicated and reduced air flow.
  • Regulators respond that "adverse mining conditions" preceded Massey's decision to adopt the changes, replacing a system that "could not be effectively maintained by the operator to ventilate the mine," one official told AP.
  • Director Bobby Inman labeled as a "big lie" the allegation that Massey put profits ahead of safety.
  • Union officials blamed by Inman for such allegations rejected his comments as spin. "The big truth is, 52 people have been killed on Massey property since 2000. No other coal company has had even half that," a union spokesman told AP.
  • The board repeated its support for Blankenship, and credit him for much of the company's success as well as safety innovations they believe make Massey a trend-setter within the industry. They attribute calls for his firing to a slight minority of company shareholders.
  • The compensation includes life insurance payouts, health coverage and four years' worth of in-state college or vocational schooling for dependent children.
  • A lawyer for the first family to sue Massey alleging wrongful death called the offer "grotesque," and said at least some of it is not generosity but rather proceeds from policies paid for by the killed miners. Other families told AP "they wanted more details or a chance to speak with attorneys" before commenting on that offer.
  • "I feel like they owe us more than that. I really do," the adult daughter of a killed miner told AP. "I hope Don Blankenship loses everything he has."
The company has also posted video from the news conference, the speakers' prepared remarks and a statement outlining the compensation packages and other topics from the hour-long session.

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