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Upper Big Branch 'documentary' released by Blankenship

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Former Massey CEO Don Blankenship released a documentary titled Upper Big Branch: Never Again on March 31. He announced its release through his Twitter account @DonBlankenship on that date.

Early in the documentary, available on YouTube, by Adroit Films and described as "A Film By Don Blankenship" , a quote attributed to Blankenship says: "The best way to honor the victims of Upper Big Branch is to base ongoing policy and safety procedures on the truth of what happened."

The documentary relies heavily on comments by "independent experts" including Martin Hertzberg, PH.D., mine fire & explosion expert and  Stan Suboleski, PH.D., a mining engineer with Evan Energy and former Vice President of Operations - Strategy at A.T. Massey Coal Company, Inc.

The description of the film states "This documentary looks at what really happened at the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that occurred on April 5, 2010."

Blankenship says that he hopes the documentary will prevent future mine accidents. 

It disputes the findings of the MSHA report on the April 5, 2010 disaster, in which it quotes MSHA claims that "an unsafe level of coal dust in the mine, inadequate risk dusting and poor ventilation" led to the explosion that killed 29 miners and injured two others.

The film suggests that further "forensic evidence" exists on the cause. 

A narrator says "Forensic evidence indicates that natural gas inundated the mine through a crack that was found on the mine's floor."

"MSHA refused to evaluate the crack" in its report, despite Massey's suggestion, the narrator adds.

That theory is backed by Suboleski who stated "It's a rare occurrence, but apparently there must be a high pressure reservoir somewhere near there, where there's actually an inflow, a massive inflow of gas, from a nearby, apparently, gas reservoir."

Gary Aho, a geologist with Sage Geo Tech is presented as an independent expert as well.

"We typically have methane gases associated with coal mining," Aho said. "But we do have instances that are geologic anomalies – as we call them – that we didn't anticipate. Going into a mine operation, you may find a fault or fracture system that is fully gas – more than the typical rock would have."

Blankenship claims that the ventilation plan in use at Upper Big Branch was actually a plan given to Massey from MSHA.

"The law only requires 30,000 CFM of air," Blankenship said. "We had 120,000 CFM of air when we operated the mine the way that we wanted to operate it.

"When we got through making the changes the government wanted to make, we were at 50,000 CFM. Even though we were compliant with the law, we didn't have nearly the amount of air that we believe was proper.

"So when the government comes in and tells you it's a ventilation plan to take 60 percent of the air off the face, then you know that they're not looking at it mathematically or scientifically.

"I think that it is common sense that if you have a coal mine that's performed well for 15 years and not had issues with its ventilation, that you need to be careful about making a change in it," Blankenship continued.

"When you come from Washington, D.C. or some government office and start dictating to mines that they are going to make changes in their ventilation plan, you need to have done your homework. You need to have done a computer simulation of that ventilation plan change and you need to have consulted with other individuals in that field.

"When you simply go in and use your power to force companies to do things they have not done in the past, it's not reasonable," said Blankenship.

 A link to the documentary can be found at www.ubbneveragain.com

In the film's credits, a statement reads "The experts interviewed for this documentary are commenting on forensic evidence and scientific purposes. Their participation in this documentary is not in association or affiliation with Don Blankenship nor with one another."

UPDATE

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) also appears in the documentary. His office released a statement March 31, a few hours after the film was posted on YouTube.

. . .

MANCHIN OUTRAGED BY DON BLANKENSHIP-FUNDED PROPAGANDA DOCUMENTARY

"U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) issued the following statement on Don Blankenship's propaganda documentary.
 
"Adroit Films, the propaganda firm behind this shameful documentary, never disclosed to me the intent of this film. They lied to my face and told me this documentary was focused on mine safety, an issue I have been committed to since the Farmington Mine disaster that killed my uncle and 77 miners. Had I known the film was in any way associated with Don Blankenship, I would have never agreed to the interview. I spoke with them for more than half an hour about mine safety and how we must prevent an Upper Big Branch disaster from ever happening again. Yet, the producers only dedicated one minute and thirty-two seconds of my thirty-minute interview to mine safety – one of the most important issues in West Virginia – to attempt to vindicate Don Blankenship. He should be more concerned with his role in the deaths of 29 brave miners and the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice investigation rather than filming a propaganda documentary. I am not only livid that I was lied to, but I am even more enraged that Don Blankenship would manipulate a tragedy to promote himself and his own agenda. I am going to pursue every legal recourse available against Adroit's despicable tactics. The most tragic part of all of this is that the families of these miners are forced to suffer yet again at the hands of Don Blankenship."