MSHA rejected the request. Blankenship did not deny that proposal had been submitted, but said Friday it had nothing to do with the explosion.
Also Friday, Blankenship confirmed one widely repeated rumor: That prior to the explosion, Massey had been working on a plan to add another ventilation shaft to the Upper Big Branch Mine. Massey officials said that additional shaft was something MSHA was requiring as part of the mine's request to resume using its conveyor-belt tunnels to carry fresh air into the mine.
Friday's interview session continued Massey's high-profile campaign to criticize the Obama administration's mine-safety policies and discredit MSHA's investigation of the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in 40 years.
In the months since the April 5 disaster, Massey has used periodic news conferences and statements to push its theory that the blast was fueled by an unexpected flood of methane from natural gas reservoirs beneath Upper Big Branch through cracks in the mine's floor.
Earlier this week, Blankenship told an investors' meeting in New York that the incident was "something unusual" that "didn't come out of the normal mining process" and "not something you would normally be guarding against."
MSHA and Massey investigated similar incidents at Upper Big Branch in 2003 and 2004, though, neither of which involved injuries.
In a March 2004 memo, first reported by the Gazette-Mail in June, MSHA officials said Massey "indicated that degasification wells are planned for the next longwall panel in an effort to bleed off any gas prior to encroachment of the longwall face." MSHA called the approach "a reasonable plan."
Four months later, in a July 2004 memo, MSHA wrote off the degasification plan as "highly problematic."
"The fracture zones are not visible underground and their position can only be ascertained as generalized trends," the July 2004 memo said. "The locations of the gas zones are revealed by methane released from fractures produced by disturbance of the extracted longwall. Gas well stimulation programs may not be effective if the well is not located in the exact area of the gas zone."
Instead, MSHA listed a variety of steps that could be taken, including increasing airflow to the longwall face and coming up with a plan for how workers should respond if an inundation occurred.
Blankenship said he has not asked his company's engineers and other experts for more information on why the degasification program was not completed.
"I haven't pursued it," Blankenship said, "but you have to keep in mind that you can't degas all of these vast areas very easily."
MSHA officials have not responded to a public-records request seeking all of the agency's documents about the follow-up to the 2003 and 2004 gas inundations at Upper Big Branch.
Massey officials indicated Friday that they have additional documents on the subject, and have provided those to investigators. Blankenship said he would have to consult with company lawyers before he could agree to release those to the media or the public.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.