Jessica Lilly Published

Subjects in UBB Film Work to Separate from Don Blankenship


Families of the victims are bracing for another anniversary of the Upper Big Branch Disaster; an explosion that ripped so violently through an underground coal mine in Raleigh County it left metal and sent a blast of air miles from the source.

Former UBB miner and survivor of that fateful day, Stanley “Goose” Stewart remembered during a speech he gave about a year after the blast.  

Stewart gave the speech at the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

Four investigations into what happened on April 5, 2010 point to poor ventilation, poor rock dusting, and a corporate culture with a disregard for mine safety.

Then-owner Massey Energy’s investigation came to a different conclusion. The film called “Upper Big Branch: Never Again” was released earlier this week and makes a case for  the company’s stance on what caused the explosion.

Mine safety professors from the University of Utah join Senator Manchin to say they were misrepresented in the film “Upper Big Branch: Never Again.” The film was paid for by former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship who claims it “looks at what really happened at the Upper Big Branch mine disaster” that killed 29 miners in 2010.

Manchin sent a letter demanding the documentary be removed along with all references to the Senator. Manchin told West Virginia Public Radio that he is  angry and was lied to.

Manchin, says the company Blankenship hired to make the documentary, Androit Films, lied to his face when they approached him for an interview to talk about mine safety. He said they made no mention of the film’s ties to Blankenship. Manchin says he would have never agreed to be affiliated with a project backed by Blankenship.

Dr. Tom Hethmon, responded to reporters to say in part …

“My colleagues and I at the University of Utah's Center for Mining Safety and Health Excellence are outraged by the apparent manipulation of our interviews in this film. As a condition of our participation in the film, the filmmakers promised us that the documentary for which we were interviewed was about the advancement of mine safety standards in this country, and that Don Blankenship had no involvement, financial or otherwise, in the film's production”

In the documentary Blankenship, in part, blames MSHA for the approving the poor the ventilation system used at the mine at the time of the explosion.

“It’s other things like changing the way things need to be done underground, reducing ventilation, turning off miner’s scrubbers, creating an environment that’s unsafe for the miners and the government is doing that partially out of ignorance and partially out of the power that they have,” former CEO Don Blankenship said earlier this week on MSNBC. 

MSHA conducted an internal investigation after UBB and admitted to shortcomings. MSHA released a statement about those shortcomings in March 2012. Some included misuse of examination books, lack of experience, lack of training, “not identify significant deficiencies in the operator’s ventilation and roof control plans” and more.

In January the federal watchdog released a statement touting 100 regulatory and administrative changes since UBB.

Blankenship implies that Massey’s investigation has been mostly ignored because of his reputation.

Blankenship has been politically outspoken in West Virginia and does not believe that climate change is man-made. Blankenship again from MSNBC.

“The company did a very good job at the mine,” Blankenship said. “MSHA was at the mine every day and the explosion happened because of a natural gas inundation.”

Former UBB miners and survivors recalled a different atmosphere  underground. 

Massey’s report also disputes the role of rock dust in the explosion. Saying that the mine was adequately rock dusted. Rock dust is used to neutralize the combustibility of coal dust in the mine. 

In a message last night, former UBB miner Goose Stewart backed the other reports saying  while miners did rock dust, “the overall general rock dusting wasn’t adequate”.

Stewart also said a mine that size should’ve had at least two machine rock dusters working at all times. Stewart remembers one rock dusting machine that was consistently breaking. He said his section ‘did their best to keep it dusted (usually by hand, no machine),” he said.

United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil E. Roberts has also responded to the film, calling it “self-serving” on the part of Blankenship and “a feeble effort by one millionaire to stay out of jail.”
“The so-called documentary produced by Don Blankenship is little more than a rehash of thoroughly discredited theories as to what took place at the Upper Big Branch mine, said Roberts.”It flies in the face of the conclusions four independent reports, including those by federal and state agencies, on the 2010 explosion that claimed the lives of 29 miners.

Roberts went on to urge the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate “all the way up the corporate chain of command, and ensure that all those responsible for the tragedy of Upper Big Branch are held accountable.”