Energy & Environment

Monday marks 11 years since the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster in Raleigh County, West Virginia, where 29 miners were killed on April 5, 2010.

Federal mine safety investigators determined that a buildup of methane gas and coal dust led to the explosion at the Massey Energy-owned mine. It was the worst mine disaster in 40 years.

Massey CEO Don Blankenship was convicted in December 2015 of conspiracy to violate mine safety and health standards.

He served one year in prison and paid a $250,000 fine. Other Massey executives and mine officials were convicted and sentenced to prison for their roles in the disaster.

Massey was sold to Alpha Natural Resources in 2011. Alpha paid a $210 million settlement with the families of the workers and to address years of safety violations.

According to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, 48 coal mine workers died nationwide in 2010. In 2020, with a sharp decrease in coal production and employment, only five workers died.

An event marking the 10th anniversary of the Upper Big Branch disaster last year was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sen. Joe Manchin, who was governor at the time of the disaster, said he thinks about it every day.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think of those lost that day,” he said. “I will never forget.”

Curtis Tate covers energy and the environment for the Ohio Valley ReSource from partner station West Virginia Public Broadcasting.