CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Despite an alarming increase in safety violations at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine, the company's board of directors took no focused steps to improve performance at the operation prior to the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.
That's what at least one top Massey executive, Baxter Phillips, said during a previously confidential legal deposition made public Wednesday night.
"It was not singled out ... " testified Phillips, a longtime Massey official who took over as CEO when Don Blankenship retired last December.
Phillips said that board members, despite a legal settlement promising to improve safety oversight, took no steps to make sure rank-and-file miners felt free to report safety problems.
In his testimony, Phillips argued that there was a "disconnect between violations and safety" and downplayed federal enforcement actions as involving little more than "paperwork" or "the location of a toolbox."
Detailed testimony from Phillips, Blankenship and Massey board chairman Bobby Inman was made public by Kanawha Circuit Judge Charles King on Wednesday in response to a legal motion filed by The Charleston Gazette and NPR.
King ordered unsealed more than 5,300 pages of records filed as part of an effort by some Massey shareholder groups to block Alpha Natural Resources' buyout of Massey.
King agreed to a request by Massey lawyer Al Emch that the judge privately review about 120 other pages of records that the company wants to keep confidential.
Among the documents being examined by the judge is a transcript of the deposition of Massey vice president of operations Chris Adkins, whose role in overseeing the Upper Big Branch Mine has been in the spotlight. Alpha officials on Wednesday said that Adkins would not join Alpha, despite an initial announcement that he would be part of the merged company.
Emch said that Massey had no objection to the unsealing of the bulk of roughly 5,500 pages of court records that were initially sealed by court officials.
The court action came as Alpha Natural Resources was finalizing its $8.5 billion buyout of Massey and trying to distance itself from the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster and other aspects of Massey's troubled record.
Only a few hundreds of the thousands of pages of records had actually been released by Wednesday night. Massey lawyers were still removing some personal information -- such as home phone numbers and Social Security numbers -- from the depositions, and the court clerks were waiting for a written order from King before unsealing the other documents.
The Gazette and NPR had filed a joint motion to unseal the records, which contain more details about the mine disaster and events leading up to the Alpha-Massey transaction.
Some documents already made public in that case, and in a related case in Delaware, have revealed serious concerns by Alpha officials about Massey's safety practices and corporate culture, questions about the merger, and warnings issued directly to Massey's board about safety problems at Upper Big Branch prior to the disaster.