CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship on Wednesday continued to defend his company's safety record, saying Massey "has a totally clear conscience" about an explosion at the company's Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 miners in April.
Blankenship also said Massey and its experts continue to develop evidence that discredits the view of federal investigators who believe a buildup of coal dust underground made the April 5 explosion far worse that it otherwise would have been.
Massey Energy officials continued to complain about increased federal safety inspections and enforcement they said had reduced the company's productivity by 30 percent and cost Massey 230,000 tons of coal production during the three months that ended Sept. 30.
Massey executive also blamed a $41.4 million loss during the quarter in large part on delays in U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration mining plan approvals, which the company said delayed production and shut down hundreds of mining shifts entirely.
Blankenship declined to comment on whether Massey was being specifically targeted in an MSHA crackdown, but said that increased focus by regulators on the company was to be expected following the mine disaster in Raleigh County.
But Blankenship said he's not concerned about increased scrutiny in the investigation of Upper Big Branch or by MSHA inspectors who are tightening enforcement following the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in 40 years.
"We have a totally clear conscience in that we know what we have done relative to safety," Blankenship told industry analysts in a quarterly conference call. "We don't believe we contributed in any way to the accident."
Still, MSHA officials confirmed that they had turned down Massey's request to open a new mine adjacent to Upper Big Branch to mine some of the same reserves it had planned to mine with the operation where the explosion occurred.
MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere noted that the investigation of the explosion is ongoing and that the area covered by a federal "control order" for the probe is where Massey wanted to resume mining.
Louviere said MSHA is also concerned that the ventilation plan submitted by the company for that area was inadequate.
"The area Massey wants to mine is in the same seam where the explosion occurred," Louviere said in an e-mail message. "Given the events surrounding this disaster, our first concern must be the safety of the miners. Massey needs to address these concerns in their plan before MSHA will grant approval."
Massey's safety record, already the subject of much criticism, has been under increased scrutiny since the Upper Big Branch explosion.