Massey CEO to Testify About Deadly West Virginia Mine Blast

December 2, 2010

Massey Energy chief Don Blankenship is expected to testify Dec. 14 in the probe of an April explosion that killed 29 men in West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine.

The state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training has reached an agreement with Massey’s attorneys for the private meeting, which acting director C.A. Phillips said will be held at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy near Beckley.

Virginia-based Massey did not immediately comment on reports about the meeting in the Charleston Gazette and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

At least six other officials, including Massey’s vice president for safety, have refused to speak to investigators, and the company has fought subpoenas for some other employees in court.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration is leading the investigation of the blast, which is also the subject of a federal criminal probe. Under federal law, however, MSHA can only subpoena witnesses if it convenes a public hearing — something the agency has so far declined to do.

State law lets investigators subpoena witnesses regardless of whether interviews are public or private.

Earlier this month, Blankenship spent more than two hours talking to reporters about the blast, reiterating his long-standing argument that MSHA contributed to the explosion by ordering changes in the mine’s ventilation plan.

MSHA investigators have said a buildup of coalbed methane and coal dust might have contributed to the worst underground coal mine disaster since 1970.

Massey claims a sudden release of gas overwhelmed the mine and discounts the role of coal dust.

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