Lies and Truth About Upper Big Branch – “PROFITS TRUMPED ALL”

Profits trumped all, including the safety and lives of 29 miners. That is the clear conclusion of a yearlong federal investigation into the Upper Big Branch disaster. Industry must finally learn its lesson. Congress and federal regulators must ensure that it does. The investigation by the Mine Safety and Health Administration faults the mine’s owner, Massey Energy, for deadly mismanagement. “This explosion could and should have been prevented by the mine operator,” it said, rejecting the company’s claim that a sudden infusion of methane gas caused the explosion.

Investigators instead found a chain of safety neglect: a dangerous buildup of coal dust had gone unattended and finally exploded after faulty water sprays failed to douse sparks from a cutting machine.

It also found that mine executives kept two sets of safety books to hide lethal hazards from inspectors, while also intimidating foremen and safety monitors into misrepresenting the true dangers down below.

The findings are being referred to criminal prosecutors. The mine’s security chief has already been indicted, and more than a dozen company officials are under investigation and, thus far, declining to cooperate.

Source: New York Times Editorial

“Think what you want, but the truth is you don’t know crap about the coal industry and how they operate, all you do is repeat the enviro’s spoon feed propaganda.”

I have sit down with many current and former Massey miners. They have told me stories of how they were instructed to take down line curtins, to leave coal dust, to do other illegal actiities in order to make money for the company. When I asked them why they would jeopardize their own lives they told me that when they complained, Massey told them to work or “get on down the mountain”. Sadly, 29 miners did not get on down that mountain on April 5
Would you eat in a restaurant with 500 violations? Would you drive a car with 500 violations?
You must be one of the 2% of Appalachians who work for coal. It is heartbreaking that anyone would defend a multinational company, based outside of WV who would have such a safety record. But it is the politics of coal. How else can you convince that slavery to a company is more important that miner’s lives.
Coal miners and the environmentalists both want good, safe jobs. They have everything in common. Neither have anything in common with the goals of a coal company. They make millions, pay the workers a mere fraction of their worth, and then destroy our communities.
Sen Robert C Byrd has said Massey cares more about money than safety. MSHA is conducting an investigation, and the FBI is now investigating criminal activity.
You can put your head in the coal dust, or you can see the facts. I cannot make you do either. The souls of 29 miners killed on April 5 cry for justice. If you don’t want to hear them, know that most people on the face of this earth do hear their cries for justice. We hear them and we are acting.
God bless our miners, God bless WV and God bless you. – Mari-Lynn Evans

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17 Responses to Lies and Truth About Upper Big Branch – “PROFITS TRUMPED ALL”

  1. Walt says:

    I find it preposterous to believe for one second that a company, who has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in a facility, would operate it in a half hazard fashion as this article implies. If Massey were only concerned about profit as this article suggest, they would have protected their investment, as it stands now the mine has been idled since the accident and is scheduled to be permanently closed. Twenty nine lives and hundreds of millions of dollars have been lost due to this horrible accident. Does anyone honestly believe that a greedy coal company would risk life and huge profits for a few more tons every day?

    There are only three entities (Massey, MSHA, WVOMST) which could be blamed for this accident. It is apparent that none of three wants to accept any responsibility and with all three conducting their own accident investigation, the obvious answer is for each one to blame the other. Who do we believe our federal government, our state government or the coal company? Personally I think all three should share the responsibility.

    Why two sets of safety books? What would be the purpose of keeping two sets of books? Since MSHA and the State of Wv. are the only agencies that review these books, and if they were trying to hide something why keep the second set? What would be the purpose? It is my understanding (from watching MSHA’s briefing) that it was not a second set of books, but a maintenance and production report which are daily reports that are used by companies to track equipment repairs and breakdowns. All coal companies and manufacturing companies keep some type of daily maintenance and production records.

  2. Citizen Harry says:

    Yeah, Walt, let’s not believe the miners that risked all to speak out against Massey. Let’s believe the likes of Don Blankenship. The only thing “preposterous” here is that profit means more than safety. Give us a break. The fact that they have tons of money invested is the very reason that the greedy sons of bitches have HUNDREDS of safety violations, and dead miners on their conscience. You’re usually the one to ask for proof Walt, what about the safety violations, and whistle blowers?

    Yep, I believe it… and it’s more than sad, it’s criminal.

    Share the blame? YEAH. Let’s put Senator Manchin in the cat bird seat along with Blankenship.
    Citizen Harry

  3. Walt says:

    Let’s talk about all of the safety violations for a minute. Exactly what were these violations written for?

  4. Citizen Harry says:

    You’re the expert on the coal company’s high integrity way of doing business, Walt. Why don’ t you just go ahead and explain why Massey was completely innocent of all wrongdoing, and save us being baited into what you want us to say.
    Citizen Harry

  5. Walt says:

    That’s about what I thought Harry, you don’t have a clue about what you’re talking about. You said and I quote, “ the greedy sons of bitches have HUNDREDS of safety violations”. It is obvious that you have no idea of the severity of these violations, but yet you continue to ramble on about them.

  6. Citizen Harry says:

    According to documents posted on MSHA’s website, 2,118 citations were issued against Performance Coal Company (wholly owned by Massey) for safety violations at the Upper Big Branch mine since the year 2000. It included 495 violations and $911,802 in “proposed” fines last year.

    Since 2005, Massey Energy as a whole, has been cited for 38,997 safety violations in its 35 underground and 12 mountaintop removal mines.

    MSHA “proposed” fines totaling $43.5 million for those violations but the company contested the vast majority of these fines, 85 percent in 2007, for example. MSHA, then packed with former coal company executives, backed down. Massey, as one critic put it, “got away, literally, with murder,” paying a combined total of only $11.8 million over that five year period.

    Does that help, or do I have to copy the whole roughly 40,000 public MSHA violation documents for you, Walt?

    Citizen Harry

    • Walt says:

      I’m not arguing about violation’s being written. My question is how many of those violations were written for working under unsupported roof and how many were written for not having the toilet close enough to the section? How many were truly safety violations and how many were non safety.

  7. Jim says:

    I’m a miner, and for many years I’ve seen what Massey/now Alpha has been doing. Of course, I’m using a fake name, because I’d get retribution, if they found out that I wrote anything about the truth. Now if that fact alone isn’t enough to clue you in on how we’re living in fear for our jobs, like in Russia or somhwere, then you’re living in a fantasy world of false patriotism.

    The facts that are available publically should be enough to show that they value money more than lives. There’s always someone to take my place, and everybody knows it. Whether I die tomorrow in the mine or not is not a big deal to anyone but my family and friends, and we all take that chance because it’s all that we have. And like it or not, Walt… things would be different if we were like the Hamptons, or Colorado Rockies, or somewhere that has money and influential people. The coal companies have kept us under their thumb of corruption for over a century.

    I’d tell you to wake up, but I also believe that you are a coal baron yourself. And if you’re not, as you claim, you’re just ignorant of what many miners have to deal with when it comes to their jobs. Where do you think “OWE MY SOUL TO THE COMPANY STORE” came from, Walt?

    • Walt says:

      Jim, you may fool a few of the guest that visit this site, but the fact is no more a coal miner than Harry is. You’ve never worked in the coal mines, heck I would bet you’ve never seen the inside of an underground mine.

  8. Jim says:

    Without nowing anything about me, you pretend that you know it “All”. You can tell it all from a few words I wrote, and you think you can wrangle my comment into a big lie. Wow. Mabye you don’t work for a coal company after all… you are probably a lawyer. I’ve got a new nickname for you than one me and my wife have for you around the house… Svengali.

    WIKIPEDIA Online Definition:
    The word “svengali” refers to a person who, with evil intent, manipulates another person. The Svengali may use pseudo-kindness, artfully or deceitfully, to get the other person to do what the Svengali desires. The word is frequently used for any kind of coach who exercises an extreme degree of domination over a performer. The term applies when the coach is an older man and the performer, a young woman. It is also used when the coach is an unaccountable but overridingly influential adviser who exerts control over a political leader or candidate.

    Svengali “would either fawn or bully and could be grossly impertinent. He had a kind of cynical humour that was more offensive than amusing and always laughed at the wrong thing, at the wrong time, in the wrong place. And his laughter was always derisive and full of malice”.

  9. Walt says:

    What evil intent? How am I manipulating others? I’ve constantly told the truth on this site, my main objective is to inform every one of the whole story and not just one side as only environmentalists tell. Everyone should be able to make up their own mind on whether surface mining is a bad or not, but in order to do so everyone needs to know both sides of the story and not just one as you and others on here seem to prefer.

    Maybe you can answer my question that I’ve ask many environmentalist? Since you and others on this site want to ban coal mining and with coal being a major player in our energy system (US 50%, WV, Ky. Ind. Ohio and others 90% or more) and with solar and wind being 25-30 years away from being a major player (their expert opinion not mine). What will replace coal as a major supplier of electricity? What about steel production?

  10. Citizen Harry says:

    In March, before the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, there were fifty safety violations alone. The key word here is “safety”. I doubt seriously that Massey would have been cited in this manner more than once a day in a month for a toilet proximity violation. I’d love for you to go to West Virginia and tell the grieving families of those miners that all those safety violations were probably only for toilet trouble in the mines.

    If I might comment on your comment to “Jim”, I think he was saying that by outright calling him a liar to discredit his comments even though you don’t know him from Adam made him think you had some pretty evil intent.

    And to answer your question (again), people on this blog would like to see an end to MTR for obvious reasons that have been written about endlessly here… and no one has EVER said that they want to ban coal TODAY (YES MTR TODAY, OR YESTERDAY IF POSSIBLE). I think most people are appreciative of the energy it provides, and the miners that endure horrible working conditions, safety corruption, and health effects. You seem to always want to twist it into sounding like we hate miners, want to destroy jobs, and are somehow crazy for not sitting down for corruption and unnecessary environmental impact. It’s the CORRUPTION, and recklessly disregarding people and communities that all of us are concerned with. And yes, it’s not everyone. Many good people work in the industry. But like any industry, you have to fight for change when it’s not working. And if you think that coal power’s impact is invisible, your just wrong.

    Of course environmentalists realize you can’t just shut down coal fired plants tomorrow. But that doesn’t mean that it’s ok to kill endangered whales in this day and age, or agree to live with mercury pollution, and all the havoc that fossil fuels bring ultimately. It’s time to challenge and change public thinking, and that’s all we are trying to do. That’s what brings political change, and stops abuse of power. I’ve said before that there are a few environmentalist groups that are just as guilty of using issues for monetary gain, power, etc. For instance, ELF which was spiking trees to harm tree industry workers. It’s just not the way to make change, with violent, idiotic behavior. I know that even some environmentalists are afraid to challenge those groups, because they need the money that they give them for useful purposes. All in all, corruption sucks in both ways, and I’m with you that some “environmental” groups are guilty of abuse of money and power. I support it being weeded out anywhere it’s found. However, that being said, I still support non-violent social activism when it meets with moral standards.

    You yourself say that you’re interested in green energy if it would work. So for the life of me, I can’t understand why you are so opposed to conscientious people fighting for the health and welfare of their families, planet, country, and future for their children, and grandchildren. And why you feel the need to be hostile to them, group them into a common mold and discredit them on general purposes.

  11. Walt says:

    What were these violations written for? How many days were inspectors at this mine during the month of March? How many operating sections were in the UBB mine 2, 3 or 4? FYI, having 3 operating sections inside one mine is like having 3 different coal mines in one. If there were three operating sections then the average violations would have been 1 violation every two days per section, considering that there are thousands of regulations coal companies are required to obey.

    Did I say all of the violations were for toilets? No. Have violations been written on toilets? Yes, I only used toilets as an example, but as I’ve said before it apparent that you have no clue what goes on in these mine, all you do is read headlines and use the talking points that your environmentalist friends feed you. Violations can be written for a multitude of things, a few examples are. Did you know that it is a violation for a cable outby an operating section to touch the ground? I know of inspectors writing five violations on one cable 1,000 feet in length because it touched the ground in five different places. Did you know that most roof control plans call for roof bolts to be placed no more than four foot apart, if these bolts happen to be four foot and one half inch it is a violation per incident. Did you know entry widths are to be no more than 20 feet, without state and federal approval, if one entry is measured to be 20 feet one inch it is a violation. It is also a violation whenever the roof falls out between bolts (2 or 3 inches) this frequently happens in older less traveled sections of the mine, remember some of these mine cover more than a thousand acres and was mined 5 or 6 years ago. Do you see where I’m going here Harry? Inspectors are at these larger mines almost every day, so I’m sure they can find a violation somewhere. Remember a violation does not necessarily mean it is life threating violation.

    My question is how we as a country are going to replace coal as an energy source once it is banned. So tell me, how did you answer my question?

    Ninety percent of the people who have commented on this site have stated they want to ban coal just ask your buddy Bo. Surface mining in Appalachia creates tens of thousands of jobs either directly or indirectly and you just admitted you want to ban it as of yesterday, so yes I’d say you want to destroy jobs. We also have to take into account that the rules environmentalist are trying to impose on surface mining also adversely affect underground mining as well. The coal industry is well aware of the environmental movement’s plan, which is to ban all surface and underground coal mining under the pretext of banning MTR.

    I personally don’t believe that surface mining is a danger to anyone’s health. EPA numbers show that since 1970, particulate matter (tiny particles of various contaminates) has decreased by 60 percent, despite the fact that the U.S. population has grown 49 percent and coal-based electricity use has risen by 183 percent. We’re burning coal more cleanly, more efficiently, than ever before.

  12. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    I’ve been asked to consider responding to your long posts regarding the safety history at Upper Big Branch … I don’t have the time to go through each point you try to raise. But I will say that any reasonable examination of the facts leads one to the conclusion that this particular mine was having more frequent and more serious safety issues than any prudent person would consider appropriate at an operation as dangerous as an underground coal mine.

    For example, read this Gazette story:
    Parts or all of Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine were ordered closed more than 60 times in 2009 and 2010, and the mine was repeatedly cited in recent months for allowing potentially explosive coal dust to accumulate, according to newly released government documents.

    Or this story:
    In the months before the deadly explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine, company officials were engaged in major disputes with state and federal regulators over serious ventilation problems at the sprawling underground mine in Raleigh County.
    Regulators had cited Massey’s Performance Coal subsidiary in December for ignoring orders that it redirect potentially dirty air from a conveyor belt tunnel away from the longwall machine section where miners were working.

    It’s also telling to read the congressional testimony of MSHA chief Joe Main, delivered just weeks after the explosion that killed 29 men:

    … MSHA found and issued an increasing number of citations for “significant and substantial” (“S&S”) violations of the Mine Act, including an alarming number of citations and orders requiring miners to be withdrawn from the mine …
    … The citations MSHA has issued at Upper Big Branch have not only been more numerous than average, they have also been more serious. Over 39% of citations issued at Upper Big Branch in 2009 were for S&S violations. In some prior years, the S&S rate at Upper Big Branch has been 10-12% higher than the national average…

    It’s important to stick to the facts in these situations, and these are the facts.

    Finally, I’m glad to see that Coal Country added a link to the original New York Times editorial, rather than just swiping the Times’ content without pointing readers to the original. It’s a tough time in journalism, and activist blogs that take our content without proper attribution and links don’t make it any easier for real investigative journalism to survive.


  13. Admin says:

    Thank you for your reply to my email Ken, so we could have some educated response to Walt’s questions. As this blogs administrator, (and definitely NOT an investigative journalist), I hope that I can bring important information while giving proper credit to those who are doing the hard investigative work. It is my right as the administrator to choose what info I want to post here, and most of the posts are related to real issues related to coal and MTR. I’ve learned a lot from you about being respectful of the source material, and making sure that if I reference a blog post or article, that I link to the main article, and mention the source.

    I hope that our blog subscribers also subscribe to Coal Tattoo at the Charleston Gazette, where they can continually get pertinent professional information on West Virginia coal issues everyday on your blog.

    Thank you again for your reply!
    Rich – Blog Administrator

  14. Citizen Harry says:

    I always love the period of silence from Walt when his arguments are crushed in the light of truth. Lol.

  15. Walt says:

    Yes, let’s please keep the facts straight. I suggest we start with your comments, you said in the April 8th article “Mine received 61closure orders prior to disaster, then in the same article you said 48 withdrawal orders in 2009 and 6 in 2010 and again you quoted Byrd saying 54 orders on 2009 and 7 more in 2010. I agree it is important to stick to the facts in these situations. What is the actual number of violations? S&S violations are not black and white in many cases it is up to the inspectors judgment, which can greatly affect it’s severity.

    What is a closure order? I know MSHA issues withdrawal orders, but a withdrawal order only means that the men/women who are not working on correcting the violation have to leave the affected area, which could be a as small as a 20 foot by 20 foot area or it could be the working section or the entire mine. Trying to lead the public to believe that all of these orders are life threating is misleading to say the lease. Sticking to the facts would be beneficial to everyone.
    It seems that no one wants to address my questions concerning the reason the violations were written. Frist let me say that, I know all of the violations written at UBB were not minor infractions, however not all were serious either. I took the liberty of checking a partial list of the violations, after reviewing several months of data it was evident that I was correct, several of the violations included outside violations such as no smoking signs, barrels not labeled, truck inspections and outdated or empty fire extinguishers. Underground violations included 3 inches of water over the track, 16 inches of water that ran for a couple of breaks, entry widths of 21 feet, methane monitors that were calibrated 33 days (law requires every 31 days). Methane monitor on miner was not maintained properly, when tested by MSHA with known air-methane mixture of 2.5% the methane monitor on the miner read 3.9% that’s right the miner was actually reading a higher methane level.

    In 2007 MSHA inspectors logged around 116 days at UBB, then in 2009 inspection days increased to 231. Common sense will tell you that when the number of inspections increase the number of violations will also increase. As you can see from the types of violations listed above and the fact that there are thousands of regulations in the CFR that violations can be written anytime an inspector visit the mine site.

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