massey energy

Sun, 2014-04-13 08:31Ben Jervey
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Never Again: Don Blankenship-Funded Video Absolves Don Blankenship in Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster Deaths

Don Blankenship's hubris is surpassed only by his greed.

The “Dark Lord of Coal Country, as the former CEO of Massey Energy has been called, is using the fourth anniversary of the tragic Upper Big Branch Mine explosion not to honor the lives of the fallen mines, but to absolve himself of any responsibility for the 29 deaths, even having the nerve to point blame at the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

Blankenship kicked off an egotistical PR blitz by releasing a so-called documentary, titled “Upper Big Branch: Never Again.” The video was funded by Blankenship himself, and proves to be more of a piece of pro-Massey propaganda than a “program that tells the facts about actual people and events,” which is how Merriam-Websters defines documentary.

The video completely dismisses criticism of Massey Energy’s management, despite the fact that multiple investigations have found the company's managers at fault for the preventable explosion and for the 29 lives lost. 

One such report, by the West Virginia Governor's Independent Investigation Panel, clearly debunks the main argument of Never Again, that a sudden and unpredictable release of methane from below the mine caused the blast. From the report (page 108):

Thu, 2013-06-06 08:00Sharon Kelly
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The Epic Rise and Fall of Don Blankenship, former Massey Energy CEO

Three years ago, 29 miners died at the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch mine. It was the worst mining disaster in decades, caused by a methane-fueled blast that was so strong it killed miners more than a mile away and left steel rail lines tangled.

Appalachia has seen its share of these sorts of accidents over the years and normally companies get fined, but mine operators almost never face criminal charges. This time was different.

For the past two years, the U.S. Attorney in West Virginia, R. Booth Goodwin II, has been systematically working his way up Massey’s hierarchy, arguing that beyond the managers who supervised that mine, there was a broader conspiracy led by still unnamed “directors, officers, and agents.” Goodwin has based his prosecutions on conspiracy charges rather than on violations of specific health and safety regulations, which means he can reach further up into the corporate structure. So far, he has convicted four employees including the Upper Big Branch mine superintendent who admitted he disabled a methane monitor and falsified mine records.

But in February, the case took a surprising turn. In pleading guilty to conspiracy charges, Dave Hughart, former President of a Massey subsidiary who is cooperating with the government, said that the person who had alerted him to impending mine inspections was Massey’s CEO, Don Blankenship – an accusation that sent a gasp through the entire coal industry.

Fri, 2013-03-08 05:00Ben Jervey
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Don Blankenship, Dark Lord of Coal Country, Implicated in Upper Big Branch Mine Explosion Deaths

Just under three years ago, an explosion in the Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal, West Virginia stole the lives of 29 miners. Many were quick to condemn Massey Energy – the coal giant that operated the mine – for their long record of lax safety oversight, and to bemoan the preventability of the disaster.

Blame was directed straight to the top of the company, to then-CEO Don Blankenship, “the dark lord of coal country” himself, who had grown a vile reputation in the field for systematically putting production and profit over worker safety.

Late last week, in a surprise twist during a routine plea hearing in a federal court, all that blame was seemingly justified as Blankenship was directly implicated in conspiring to skirt safety regulations. A former Massey Energy official called our his boss, Blankenship himself, for conspiring and plotting to hide safety violations from federal safety inspectors.

Fri, 2012-06-01 15:46Steve Horn
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Massey WV Coal Battle Take Two: Erie, CO Citizens Fight Fracking

Erie, CO meet Naoma, WV. Though seemingly different battles over different ecologically hazardous extractive processes – hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for unconventional gas versus mountaintop removal for coal – the two battles are one in the same and direct parallels of one another. 

On June 2, a coalition of activist organizations led by Erie Rising and joined by the likes of the Sierra Club, the Mark Ruffalo-lead Water Defense, the Angela Monti Fox-lead Mothers Project (mother of “Gasland” Producer and Director, Josh Fox), Food and Water Watch (FWW), among others, will take to Erie, CO to say “leave and leave now” to EnCana Corporation.

EnCana has big plans to drill baby drill in Erie.

It “plans to frack for natural gas near three local schools and a childcare center,” according to a press release disseminated by FWW. “On June 2, the event in Erie will give voice to those immediately affected by fracking there, and to all Americans marred by the process, becoming ground zero for the national movement to expose the dangers associated with fracking.”

The action is a simple one: a “rally and vigil to protest gas industry giant Encana’s plans to frack for natural gas near Red Hawk Elementary, Erie Elementary, Erie Middle School and Exploring Minds Childcare Center and transport toxic fracking by-products on roads that come within feet of these and other community schools,” reads the FWW press release.

Sat, 2012-04-07 11:57Laurel Whitney
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Spruce Mine Mountaintop Removal Coal Permit Restored

In late March, a federal court ruled to open the Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County, WV, to mountaintop removal coal mining. The EPA had originally vetoed the permit back in January of 2011, explaining that the destructive practices of mountaintop removal would endanger communities' health and access to clean water.

The permit authorizes the largest single mountaintop removal site in West Virginia's history.

Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that the EPA overreached when it tried to revoke the permit using the laws of the Clean Water Act. Berman declared,

It posits a scenario involving the automatic self-destruction of a written permit issued by an entirely separate federal agency after years of study and consideration. Not only is this nonrevocation-revocation logistically complicated, but the possibility that it could happen would leave permittees in the untenable position of being unable to rely upon the sole statutory touchstone for measuring their Clean Water Act compliance: the permit.”

Thu, 2011-12-29 13:36Farron Cousins
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The Year In Dirty Energy: Coal

Most children already have a fear of coal – after all, they are threatened during childhood that if they misbehave, Santa Claus will leave them nothing but a lump of coal in their stocking. The older members of society, too, have plenty of reasons to fear coal as an energy source. Burning it pollutes our air and water and threatens our health. Mining it can be deadly for workers. And the entire life cycle of coal threatens the global climate.

When it comes to coal, two major issues dominated the environmental news front this year in particular: Mountaintop removal mining (MTR) and coal ash. While MTR has become an issue that most people are familiar with, the threats posed by coal ash remain largely under-reported (stay tuned for more on that in 2012).

As for MTR, here is a brief rundown of what’s happening:

Mountaintop removal mining (MTR) entails blowing the tops off of entire mountains in order to extract the coal seems within. The method became popular when coal companies realized that they could produce two and a half times as much coal per worker hour by removing the tops of mountains, rather than traditional coal mining methods. As a result, some states have reduced the number of coal workers by as much as 60%, while output and profits have remained steady.

In addition to the obvious loss of mountains, the practice is riddled with environmental dangers. In order to extract the coal, the areas around the mountain are clear-cut, destroying wildlife habitat and leading to soil erosion. The waste products from the coal extraction also leak into water supplies, contaminating them with mercury, lead, sulfur, and other dangers chemicals. It is estimated that by the end of 2012, a staggering 2,200 square miles of the Appalachian Mountains will have been destroyed thanks to mountaintop removal mining.
Tue, 2011-07-12 14:30Brendan DeMelle
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Stephen Colbert Skewers Talisman Energy Over Gas Fracking Coloring Book

Stephen Colbert devoted a must-see segment of The Colbert Report last night to the subject of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), mocking gas company Talisman Terry for its coloring book propaganda, “Talisman Terry’s Energy Adventure” [PDF] and generally eviscerating the gas industry’s efforts to greenwash fracking in the wake of widespread public concern over water contamination and other threats posed by the industry’s drilling operations.

Colbert’s team certainly had fun mocking Talisman’s “Friendly Fracosaurus” character, revealing some “bonus pages” of the dinosaur facing his “violated ancestors” and committing suicide - frackicide? - by lighting a cigarette in the shower.  These references were surely amusing to viewers of Gasland and other followers of the fracking controversy.

Watch the video:

Thu, 2011-06-23 00:23Farron Cousins
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Mountaintop Removal Mining Linked To Birth Defects

Researchers at Washington State University and West Virginia University have released a new report that links an increase in birth defects in Appalachia to the practice of mountaintop removal mining (MTR or MTM). The study shows that communities exposed to the wastes created by blowing up mountains to extract coal experience significantly higher instances of birth defects.

A press release on the new report summarized the findings as follows:

The study was based on analysis of over 1.8 million birth records between 1996 and 2003 in central Appalachia. Prevalence rates were higher in mountaintop mining areas compared to non-mining areas for circulatory/respiratory, central nervous system, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, urogenital, and ‘other’ types of defects. Spatial correlation between mountaintop mining and birth defects was also present, indicating that MTM activity in one county may have increased birth defect prevalence rates in surrounding counties.

Thu, 2011-06-16 14:15Laurel Whitney
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Stories From the March on Blair Mountain - Part 1 The March

I arrived a few days early to headquarters in Marmet, WV with an overly large pack that threatened to topple me over with one slightly unbalanced step. A sleeping bag, multiple changes of clothes, a bottle of Listerine, and ample bug spray would have to last me through the long and arduous journey of marching 50 miles along highways careening through the West Virginian Appalachians.

Over the next week, hundreds walked along the path of the original 1921 miners who rose up against the tyrannous coal companies in an attempt to unionize. In the 2011 March on Blair Mountain, community leaders, union members, and conservationists rallied to save the historical labor icon of Blair Mountain, sentenced for destruction via mountaintop removal mining (MTR).  We marched to protest against MTR and to advocate for safer working conditions and sustainable jobs for West Virginians, whose economy and proud natural landscape have been eroded by greedy coal barons.

Thu, 2011-06-16 12:41Farron Cousins
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Bobby Kennedy Jr. Talks "The Last Mountain" With Director Bill Haney

The companies involved in mountaintop removal mining (MTR) are beginning to get much-needed exposure in the national media. For years, this issue has been relegated to a few mentions here and there, with national media outlets virtually ignoring the devastation taking place in rural America. The media’s silence, and the public’s resulting lack of knowledge on the issue, has allowed a large number of the mountains in communities along the Appalachian range to be blown up and mined for every piece of coal the industry can find. As communities continue to fight MTR coal giants like Massey Energy and others, they are continuously faced with the devastation that these energy companies have left in their backyards.

The video below is from Ring of Fire Radio, and features a discussion between Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and documentary film director Bill Haney. The two are discussing their new film “The Last Mountain.

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