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New Blankenship-Funded Documentary On UBB Disaster Debuts

Reported: Mar. 31, 2014 6:18 PM EDT
Updated: Apr. 1, 2014 8:00 AM EDT

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Kennie Bass) - A new documentary funded by former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship explores the causes of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.

The fourth anniversary of that tragedy is Saturday, April 5.

Blankenship says he funded the documentary to unveil the real reasons behind the explosion and and to try to and avoid similar disasters in the future.

However, his critics say it's just propaganda designed to try and make the former Massey Energy CEO look good.

The documentary, "Upper Big Branch-Never Again" disputes the findings of independent investigator Davitt McAteer, the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the United Mine Workers of America who all say the UBB explosion was a result of Massey Energy's drive to put profits over safety.

"We call this pretty much, industrial homicide," Cecil Roberts, president of the UMWA said.

The film gathers a number of experts from different fields and offers the theory that a natural gas inundation through a crack in the mine floor fueled the blast which killed 29 men.

The film says MSHA's insistence that the mine change its ventilation plan in the days before the explosion helped cause the disaster.

Documentary Narration: "Inundation is evidenced by the types of gas that are present when it occurs. Coalbed gas in the coal seams at Upper Big Branch are virtually pure methane. However, natural gas contains ethane and the government found enough ethane at the ventilation exhaust to confirm a natural gas inundation. Using MSHA's own Bandytown fan data, which recorded high levels of ethane, independent experts conclude the presence of natural gas rather than coal seam gas."

Additionally, the documentary questions the findings that poor rock dusting led to massive amounts of coal dust feeding the blast.

Documentary Narration: "And, is it likely that miners would overlook common safety problems?"

"The minute he got into that black section, he'd turn around, go back and say 'Get that g-------- section rock dusted. I'm not gonna work in a section that isn't rock dusted,'" Martin Hertzberg, a Ph.D. and expert in Mine Fires and Explosions said.

Blankenship says unless science and testing, instead of political agendas, lead the way for coal industry regulations, another Upper Big Branch-type disaster could happen again.

"The purpose of the documentary is to try to get people to focus on what actually happened at UBB," Blankenship said. "That's the most important thing, that we recognize that accidents happen, they can be prevented, but they can't be prevented with propaganda and politics. They can only be prevented with physics and technology."

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who appears several times in the documentary, issued a scathing response to the film's release.

"Adroit Films, the propaganda firm behind this shameful documentary, never disclosed to me the intent of this film," Manchin said.

"They lied to my face and told me this documentary was focused on mine safety..."

"I spoke with them for more than half an hour about mine safety and how we must prevent an Upper Big Branch disaster from ever happening again. Yet, the producers only dedicated one minute and thirty-two seconds of my thirty-minute interview to mine safety..."

"I am not only livid that I was lied to, but I am even more enraged that Don Blankenship would manipulate a tragedy to promote himself and his own agenda. I am going to pursue every legal recourse available against Adroit's despicable tactics. The most tragic part of all of this is that the families of these miners are forced to suffer yet again at the hands of Don Blankenship."

Blankenship is in New York, making the rounds with various media outlets talking about the film.

Blankenship says he's scheduled to appear as a guest on MSNBC's "The Chris Hayes Show" between 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. on March 31, 2014.

We have an interview scheduled with Blankenship as he conducts a media tour via satellite on Thursday, April 3, 2014.

If you would like to watch the documentary, "Upper Big Branch - Never Again" you can go here.

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