Federal agencies Mining, oil and gas

Feds indict former CEO who covered up safety violations before mine explosion

Donald Blankenship

Donald Blankenship; photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Thinkstock

Charleston, WV – Former Massey Energy Co. CEO Donald Blankenship conspired against and lied to federal officials about safety at the Upper Big Branch mine – site of an April 2010 methane explosion that killed 29 workers – to make more money, according to a federal indictment announced Nov. 15.

The indictment, released by the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of West Virginia, charges Blankenship with two counts of conspiracy and one count each of fraud and making false statements.

Massey Energy owned the West Virginia mine at the time of the explosion. In the years leading up to the tragedy, Blankenship willfully committed mine safety violations and was part of a conspiracy in which advance notice of mine inspections was given, the indictment alleges. This advance notice allowed the mine to hide or cover up any routinely committed safety violations during inspections.

The indictment also states that after the fatal explosion, Blankenship lied to the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding safety practices at the mine prior to the tragedy.

The Upper Big Branch mine catastrophe is the worst U.S. mining disaster in 40 years. If convicted, Blankenship could face up to 31 years in prison.