Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has been convicted by a federal jury in West Virginia of conspiracy to violate U.S. mine safety laws in relation to the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at the firm’s Upper Big Branch underground metallurgical coal mine in Montcoal, WV, 48 km south of Charleston.
While the conviction is unprecedented in U.S. mining history in that prosecutors targeted a high ranking executive for workplace related safety violations, Blankenship was acquitted of the more serious charges of lying to regulators and investors regarding the accident.
Caused by a build-up of methane in the underground workings, the explosion at Upper Big Branch on April 5, 2010, was the worst U.S. mine disaster since 1984, when a fire at Emery Mining Corp.’s mine in Orangeville, UT, killed 27 miners, and 1970, when an explosion at a mine owned by Finley Coal Co. in Hyden, KY, killed 37. The death toll also surpassed the 12 miners killed in early 2006 at International Coal Group’s Sago coal mine in West Virginia.
In the years prior to the explosion, the Upper Big Branch mine had had a history of safety violations, …
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