The advisory committee report was among hundreds of thousands of pages of documents filed in a Kanawha County lawsuit that some Massey shareholders filed against the company's board members and top executives. While Massey's buyout by Alpha Natural Resources was finalized Wednesday, lawyers for the shareholder groups are continuing to try to hold Massey management responsible for perhaps $1 billion in losses from the April 5, 2010, disaster.
Alpha has tried to distance itself from Massey's safety record, but shareholder groups allege Alpha CEO Kevin Crutchfield agreed to provide jobs to several Massey officials who were running Upper Big Branch at the time of the explosion.
Lawyers for the shareholder groups and Massey sought to have records in the case concealed from the public, but Kanawha Circuit Judge Charles King unsealed them at the request of the Gazette and NPR.
Previously, limited documents made public in the West Virginia case and a similar action 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 members about safety problems at Upper Big Branch prior to the disaster.
Records unsealed by King outline a series of actions by Massey's board, despite a legal settlement and court order that mandated board members take a larger role in ensuring Massey complied with safety regulations.
For example, the June 2008 court order mandated that Massey hire a "vice president for safety practices" who would report not to then-CEO Don Blankenship, but to a separate Safety, Environmental Public Policy Committee.
Massey lured Elizabeth Chamberlin from CONSOL Energy to fill the vice president's role, but then Blankenship set up a system through which she would report directly to him, not to the special committee.
The court order also required Massey to set up a new safety reporting system that would encourage miners and other employees to report problems without fear of being punished or fired. Citing sworn statements by various Massey officials, the court records show the board's safety committee didn't inquire about whether this system was up and running until after the Upper Big Branch Mine blew up.
The documents also cite testimony by Massey officials who admitted the board was aware of increasing numbers of violations at numerous Massey mines -- including Upper Big Branch -- but took no concrete actions to try to remedy the problems.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.