Ashton Marra Published

Blanchard Discusses Violations, Safety Actions During Cross Examination


In his third day in the witness seat, former Marfork and Performance Coal President Chris Blanchard continued to answer questions about safety priorities at Massey Energy.

Blanchard is testifying in the trial of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship who faces charges for conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards and lying to investors and securities officials. 

Blanchard’s coal group oversaw production at the Upper Big Branch mine. 

The former president, who was granted immunity by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for his testimony, is named in Blankenship’s indictment as a co-conspirator, but Blanchard again testified Monday he had no unwritten understanding with Blankenship to violate safety standards. 

Instead on the stand, Blanchard testified both he and Blankenship knew violations were inevitable, but not “acceptable” or ” encouraged.”

Blankenship’s lead attorney Bill Taylor walked Blanchard through dozens of documents Monday that included emails to show Blankenship had never communicated to Blanchard a condoning of safety violations, federal Mine Safety and Health Administration citations to show violations cost the company more money than having followed the standards, and more than 20 written warnings against Upper Big Branch miners who were found responsible for creating hazards in the mine that led to violations. 

Taylor also listed a number of safety “innovations” a Massey committee called the Safety Development Group chartered. Referred to as the SDG, the group was made up of Blankenship, Massey COO Chris Adkins and other top ranking Massey officials. 

Taylor credited the group with requiring all miners to wear reflective clothing, installing safety netting in certain underground equipment and using proximity detectors on continuous miners. Those detectors, also worn by a miner on his or her belt, automatically shuts off the equipment if it gets too close to a miner. 

Blanchard has previously testified the proximity detectors were not in use at the Upper Big Branch mine.