“Former Massey Energy Co. CEO Don Blankenship was sentenced Wednesday to a year in federal prison and ordered to pay a $250,000 fine for his role in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in West Virginia that killed 29 miners in 2010.
“Mr. Blankenship was acquitted of all felony charges, but convicted of a misdemeanor conspiracy charge in December for willfully violating U.S. mine health and safety standards and received the maximum sentence and fine applicable under his conviction, according to news releases.
“This sentence is a victory for workers and workplace safety,” Acting United States Attorney Carol Casto for the Southern District of West Virginia said in a statement. “It lets companies and their executives know that you can’t take chances with the lives of coal miners and get away with it. Putting the former chief executive officer of a major corporation in prison sends a message that violating mine safety laws is a serious crime, and those who break those laws will be held accountable.”
Upper Big Branch Lost Worker Memorial
During the trial, more than two dozen witnesses, including coal miners who worked at Upper Big Branch, testified about unsafe working conditions at the mine, violations of U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration regulations and organized efforts to obstruct and interfere with MSHA inspectors, according to the government’s release.
Mr. Blankenship’s motion to stay his sentence pending appeal was denied by the judge, who ruled he will self-report once the Bureau of Prisons determines where he will serve his sentence, according to a government spokesperson.
An attorney for Mr. Blankenship could not be immediately reached for comment.”
Criminal charges for homicide against Samarco Execs, including their former President, and one consultant VOGBR, have also been made but not yet heard. Heruculano Mine partners were recently indicted for murder for deaths in the 2014 tailings dam failure.
In a recent industry update the Insurance Information Institute reported
- Mining accounted for 7 of 147 man made disasters known to insurers in 2014( 5%)
- The 7 manmade* mining disasters in 2014 known to insurer resulted in 400 death but involved an insured loss amount of only $100 million indicating not the consequence of of loss but the very low presence of insurance and risk management outside of Property ($625 billion in insured assets) Business Interruption and Political Risk.
(*”manmade disaster” means arising from human activity and includes causes other than those originating from the insured miner’s operations)
In their 2016 Mining Market Outllook report global brokerage house Marsh & McClennan provides extensive stats and analysis showing that as risks have grown and the value of insured assets has grown, more and more insurers have reduced limits of coverage ( ie bought less coverage even though for property at least limits are generous and cheap.
In the worlds most costly and damaging mine failures, the Marsh report notes the values the total damages was extremely low. They made specific note of both Mt. Polley and Samarco.. Even for all those Tailings facilities rated “Extreme Hazard”,usually meaning that human settlements would be completely lost as happened at Samarco, permitting regulations and statutes rarely require adequate third party liability limits.
The government has assessed damages against Samarco of $(us)5.2 billion. Samarco self reported that they had only about $600 million available for compensation from insurance almost all of that for their own proper ty damages and their Business Interruption. Under applicable liability applies and the settlement agreement, which flows the dictates f law, does not limit liability to that amount but sets minimums for each year to serve as benchmarks for minimum compliance ( falling below these minimums would consitute non compliance and subject Samarco, Vale & BHP to very costly daily penalties) and further action under environmental crimes law.
The Upper Big Branch Mine disaster occurred on April 5, 2010 roughly 1,000 feet (300 m) underground in Raleigh County, West Virginia at Massey Energy‘s Upper Big Branch coal mine located in Montcoal. Twenty-nine out of thirty-one miners at the site were killed. The coal dust explosion occurred at 3:27 pm. The accident was the worst in the United States since 1970, when 38 miners were killed at Finley Coal Company‘s No. 15 and 16 mines in Hyden, Kentucky. A state funded independent investigation would later find Massey Energy directly responsible for the blast.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) released its final report on December 6, 2011, concluding that flagrant safety violations contributed to the explosion. It issued 369 citations at that time, assessing $10.8 million in penalties. Alpha Natural Resources, which had bought Massey Energy in 2011, settled its corporate criminal liabilities with the U.S. Attorney for $209 million. Investigation of possible personal criminal liability continues, with one former superintendent, Gary May, pleading guilty in March 2012, and “confess[ing] to conspiring to ‘impede the [MSHA]’s enforcement efforts'”. The CEO of Massey Energy at the time of the disaster, Don Blankenship, was convicted in 2015 of conspiring to willfully violate safety standards. He was found not guilty of charges of securities fraud and making false statements.
In April 2012, Coal producer Alpha Natural Resources Inc. (ANR) (the then current owner) said it will permanently close its Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.[10