mining

PHOTOS: Famed Photographer Alex MacLean’s New Photos of Canada’s Oilsands are Shocking

  • Posted on: 2 July 2014
  • By: Connor Gibson

Photos by Alex Maclean, posted with permission from DeSmog Canada.

Crossposted from DeSmog Canada, written by Carol Linnitt: PHOTOS: Famed Photographer Alex MacLean’s New Photos of Canada’s Oilsands are Shocking

Alex MacLean is one of America’s most famed and iconic aerial photographers. His perspective on human structures, from bodies sunbathing at the beach to complex, overlapping highway systems, always seems to hint at a larger symbolic meaning hidden in the mundane. By photographing from above, MacLean shows the sequences and patterns of human activity, including the scope of our impact on natural systems. His work reminds us of the law of proximity: the things closest to us are often the hardest to see.

Recently MacLean traveled to the Alberta oilsands in western Canada. There, working with journalist Dan Grossman, MacLean used his unique eye to capture some new and astounding images of one of the world’s largest industrial projects. Their work, funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, will form part of a larger, forthcoming report for GlobalPost.

DeSmog Canada caught up with MacLean to ask him about his experience photographing one of Canada’s most politicized resources and the source of the proposed Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines.

Forest removal for exploratory well pad. Shell Jackpine mining site, North of Fort McMurray, Canada.*

Beds leading up to tailing pond.

DeSmog Canada: What was it like photographing the oilsands? Was it different from photographing other large-scale human spaces like highways or beaches? 

Alex MacLean: The oilsands covered a vast area of which I was only able to photograph part of. It was not only different from highways, beaches, etc., in that those are linear formations, but the scale of the oilsands area and the devastation to the landscape was overwhelming. I felt a relation between highways and the mines in that open pit mines and seismic exploration lines fragment the boreal forest just as highways do through urban areas. 

Steam and smoke rise from the Syncrude Mildred Lake mining facility.

Patches of boreal forest intertwined with snow-covered muskeg, near McLelland Lake, Alberta, Canada.

Clearing, dewatering, and seismic grid over the once boreal forest. Syncrude mining site, Alberta, Canada.

Syncrude Mildred Lake mining site. View south to upgrading facility with rising plumes of steam and smoke. Alberta, Canada.

Suncor Oil Sands Project. Piles of uncovered petrolum coke, a byproduct of upgrading tar sands oil to synthetic crude. "Petcoke" is between 30-80 per cent more carbon intense than coal per unit of weight.

DsC: What led to your interest in the Alberta oilsands?

AM: I have been photographing around the issues of climate change since early on, and actually put out a book looking at land use patterns as they relate to energy and consumption in 2008 called “OVER: The American Landscape at the Tipping Point.” I was drawn to photographing the pipeline because I feel as though there is little public awareness that, if built, the Keystone XL will make avoiding catastrophic climate change much harder. The pipeline is an important link in a fossil-fuel production machine, stocked with bitumen deposits at one end and refineries at the other. The public is unaware that this oil production machine is poorly regulated, though it will cause serious environmental and health effects on local, regional and planetary scales. 

Mining operations at the North Steepbank Extension. Suncor mine, Alberta, Canada.

Checkerboard clearing of the overburden at Syncrude Aurora North mine site. Alberta, Canada.

Seismic lines and well pad for exploratory drilling through the boreal forest at the Suncor Firebag Oil Sands Project. Alberta, Canada.

Smoke, steam, and gas flares rise from the Suncor upgrading facility. Reclamation efforts seen to the right, on what was once a tailing pond. Suncor has reclaimed only 7 per cent of their total land disturbance.

DsC: What is it like taking a bird's eye view of humanity? Do you sometimes have great insights looking at civilization from such a removed, abstracted position?

AM: One of the interesting things about aerial photography is how so much of what you see about humanity is devoid of people. What I see is tracks and markings that are telling about our culture and values. When you see the destruction of landscapes, in this case of the boreal forest, with the obvious contamination of the environment via water and air pollution, you can’t help but feel that there is very short-sighted exploitation of natural resources that will have long-lasting environmental impacts. 

Hot waste filling tailing pond. Suncor mining site, Alberta, Canada.

Earthen wall to tailing pond. Suncor mining site, Alberta, Canada.

Growing pyramids of sulfur, a byproduct of upgrading bitumen. Mildred Lake, Alberta, Canada.

DsC: You've been photographing 'human' spaces for a long time. Have you noticed a change over the last few decades in your perspective as society has grown more aware of the ecological crisis and the scale of our impact?

AM: You can’t help but notice the growth that has taken place in the last thirty years, and the build-out of what was once natural spaces. I would say in the last 15 years, at an escalating rate, you begin to see more sustainable sources of energy through wind and solar farms, and reconfiguring of urban spaces to make them more walkable. 

Overview of tailing pond at Suncor mining site.

Surface oil on tailing pond. Suncor mine near Fort McMurray.

Open box cars carrying sulfur byproduct. Edmonton, Canada.

* All captions provided by Alex MacLean.

Image Credit: All photos copyright Alex MacLean. Used with permission.

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West Virginians impacted by coal chemical spill need water

  • Posted on: 21 January 2014
  • By: JesseColeman

West Virginia Water Crisis: People in Need 10 Days Later

On January 9th, Freedom Industries, a company that stores chemicals for the coal industry, spilled 7,500 gallons of Crude Methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM), a little known, little understood compound into the Elk river. The spill occurred one mile upriver from the water intake that supplies tap water for all of West Virginia's capital city of Charleston.

The thick oily chemical was pumped through the water system and into homes and businesses throughout the area, causing vomiting, skin problems, and diarrhea. Now, nearly two weeks since the disaster was discovered, the water has been deemed "safe to drink," though water from the tap still releases a sickly sweet chemical odor, especially when heated.

Pregnant women and children are still advised to drink bottled water, but very few people in the affected area are interested in drinking from the tap, with child or not. The tremendous need for potable water has led to the creation of the West Virginia Clean Water Hub, a community led effort to provide the people of Charleston and the outlying areas with bottled water, a need that government agencies have largely ignored. Sign this petition to demand justice for people whose water has been poisoned

So little is known about 4-MCHM that regulators didn't even know it's boiling point. Now scientists are scrambling to find out how the chemical reacts with the chlorine in the municipal water system, and whether the chemical has leached into water heaters and water pipes in people's homes. Authorities recommend that all pipes that have come in contact with the pollutant be flushed, including water heaters and outdoor faucets. However, West Virginia American Water, the company that owns the water treatment facility contaminated by the coal chemical, is only offering a 10 dollar credit (1000 gallons) to consumers. The cost of flushing homes will therefore fall on already struggling West Virginians, where poverty is rampant and Walmart is the largest single employer.

West Virginians still need fresh water. To donate visit Keeper of the Mountain Foundation.

The affected intake also supplies water to 9 counties surrounding Charleston, which contain multiple rural communities, like the small community of Pratt. Pratt was added to Charleston's municipal water system only two months ago. This was initially celebrated by the residents of Pratt, because it meant relief from the extremely poor quality water from local sources, which have been contaminated by Acid Mine Drainage, coal dust, and other coal industry impacts.

Water contamination from the coal industry is nothing new to West Virginians, who have lived with poisoned wells streams for generations. This spill, the latest and most dramatic in a long history of water contamination, exposes the problems of lax and inadequate regulation coupled with politicians that prioritizes the bottom line of the coal industry over the health and safety of people. The chemical 4-MCHM was exempted from federal laws that require disclosure. The tanks that held the chemical were not required to be inspected regularly, due to a loophole that exempted above ground tanks from inspection.

Crews continue to work on the site of contamination at Freedom Industries.

West Virginian politicians with close ties to the coal industry have continued to defend coal companies from federal and state regulation, even as 300,000 of their constituents went without drinkable water.  Speaking at an event hosted by the coal front group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) last week,  Joe Manchin, West Virginia’s junior senator and former governor continued to defend the coal industry from reglation. “Coal and chemicals inevitably bring risk — but that doesn’t mean they should be shut down,” said Manchin. “Cicero says, ‘To err is human.’ But you’re going to stop living because you’re afraid of making a mistake?” Manchin has significant financial ties to the coal industry.

The current governor of West Virginia, Earl Ray Tomblin, was also quick to defend the coal industry. In a press conference days after the spill, he said "“This was not a coal company.  This was a chemical supplier where the leak occurred.  As far as I know, there are no coal mines within miles of this particular incident.” Governor Tomblin's remarks ignore the fact that many communities affected by this spill are only using municipal water because local sources have already been poisoned by coal extraction and use. Tomblin also ignored the fact that Freedom Industries' product is a necessary part of the coal extraction and burning process.

To donate water to West Virginians, please visit the Keeper of the Mountain Foundation.

To volunteer or request clean water, visit the West Virginia Clean Water Hub.

Wes Virginia coal chemical spill

 

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Tar sands satire shut down after complaints from law firm tied to oil industry

  • Posted on: 21 August 2013
  • By: JesseColeman

Remember to Breathe - IndieGogo Pitch Video

Political satirists Andy Cobb and Mike Damanskis recently began a new video project to document the tar sands of Canada. But a law firm who represents Exxon and other tar sands interests has begun filing complaints, and had their video pulled off youtube.

Comedians and activists, the duo has become known for biting commentary on the oil industry, like their response to Exxon’s tar sands pipeline spill in Mayflower, Arkansas, which was featured on the Rachel Maddow Show.

Their new project sends the team up to Alberta, Canada, on a “vacation” to document tar sands mining operations and its effects on the ecosystems and public health. The project also wants to expose the hypocrisy of the claims of environmental stewardship made by oil corporations involved in tar sands mining, as well as the Albertan government, which touts Alberta’s ecotourism options while promoting tar sands mines.

"The original inspiration for our project is that industry PR around the tar sands seems like a cross between a travel ad and oil company ad, inviting us to 'come to Alberta' and see for ourselves," Mike Damanskis told DeSmogBlog.

The complaints against Andy and Mike were filed by the law firm Denton, on behalf of  “Travel Alberta,” the tourism bureau of Alberta, Canada. An investigation by DeSmogBlog’s Steve Horn found that Denton has serious and substantial ties to the tar sands oil industry, and represents ExxonMobil’s tar sands project, as well as several other oil corporations tied to tar sands development.

To support Andy and Mike’s project, check out their pitch video and fundraising page.

 

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US Gov't doesn't know exact Keystone XL pipeline route

  • Posted on: 8 July 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

The U.S. government doesn't know exactly where TransCanada wants to lay pipe for the northern section of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, according to the results of a 14-month Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request to the U.S. State DepartmentIn its final answer to a FOIA request by Thomas Bachand of the Keystone Mapping Project, the State Department admitted:

Neither Cardno ENTRIX nor TransCanada ever submitted GIS information to the Department of State, nor was either corporation required to do so. The information that you request, if it exists, is therefore neither physically nor constructively under the control of the Department of State and we are therefore unable to comply with your FOIA request.

Yes, you read that right. The U.S. State Department published its draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS)--supposedly an official account of the potential hazards of TransCanada's proposed pipeline on U.S. waterways, wildlife and other major considerations like global climate change--without knowing exactly where TransCanada wants to dig. Check out the full letter from State to Mr. Bachand at the Keystone Mapping Project.

Ongoing Conflicts of Interest in State Department Environmental Assessments

The State Department is already facing legitimate criticism for contracting companies with ties to TransCanada and other oil companies for its environmental impact estimates, which the Environmental Protection Agency has slammed for being "insufficient." State looked no further than oil industry contractors to run the draft SEIS--companies like Cardno ENTRIX, which calls TransCanada a "major client," and ERM Resources, a dues paying member of the American Petroleum Institute which is being investigated by the State Department's Inspector General for trying to hide its prior consulting for fossil fuel giants like ExxonMobil, BP and Shell. In fact, TransCanada chose ERM Resources to do the Keystone XL SEIS review for the State Department, and one of ERM's people working on the review was formerly employed by TransCanada. 

TransCanada has stacked the deck, wagering American waterways and private property against the promise to profit from continued extraction of dirty tar sands petroleum.

Tar Sands Pipelines Spill

The potential is too high for Keystone XL to leak just like TransCanada's existing Keystone I pipeline has repeatedly done, or rupture like ExxonMobil's Pegasus tar sands pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas earlier this year, or Enbridge's tar sands pipeline spill in the Kalamazoo River. The southern leg of Keystone XL is already under construction, and the if the cracks, dents and other faults in the 'new' pipe are any indication, pollution from oil spills looks inevitable. Beyond being a disaster waiting to happen, KXL guarantees the continued disaster that is tar sands mining, a process that has already poisoned entire regions--and peoples' communities--in northern Alberta, Canada.

With President Obama's recently unveiled Climate Action Plan, it would be a limp gesture to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. You'd think with the State Department having its environmental analysis run by oil industry consultants, they'd listen to the oil industry's own guarantees that Keystone XL would increase demand for tar sands mining. That's bad news for our climate -- something the State Department cannot ignore if they do a reasonable review of the "unprecedented" amount of public comments on its draft SEIS on KXL.

What remains to be seen is if the State Department will be reasonable in the last leg of its review, or if it will continue letting TransCanada and Big Oil control the process to the bitter end.

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Keystone Academy: Where Legislators Learn the Etiquette of Serving Special Interests

  • Posted on: 2 July 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

2012 ALEC Academy attendees. Photo via twitter

Written by Nick Surgey, crossposted with permission from PR Watch.

In October 2012, nine U.S. state legislators went on an industry paid trip to explore the Alberta tar sands. Publicly described as an "ALEC Academy," documents obtained by CMD show the legislators were accompanied on a chartered flight by a gaggle of oil-industry lobbyists, were served lunch by Shell Oil, dinner by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and that the expenses of the trip were paid for by TransCanada and other corporations and groups with a direct financial interest in the Alberta tar sands and the proposed Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline.

Among the nine legislators on the tour was the new ALEC national chairman, Representative John Piscopo from Connecticut, and Senator Jim Smith from Nebraska who has sponsored legislation in his state to speed up the building of the Nebraska segment of KXL. Email records obtained by CMD show that after the trip, legislators were asked by ALEC to send “thank you notes” to the lobbyists for their generosity in Alberta.

Far better than a mere "thank you," Rep. John Adams from Ohio returned from the trip and sponsored a bill given to him by a TransCanada lobbyist calling for the approval of KXL. As previously reported by CMD, similar legislation, reflecting both an ALEC “model” bill and language taken from a TransCanada set of talking points, has been introduced in seven states in 2013.

The tar sands of Alberta are estimated to be the third largest reserve of crude oil on the planet. But the process of turning the tar-like bitumen into a refined product that can be used as fuel is extremely energy intensive and highly polluting. The former NASA scientist James Hansen, warned that the extraction and use of Canadian tar sands would mean "game over" for the climate. TransCanada is the operator of the proposed KXL pipeline, which would carry the tar sands to Texas for processing and likely for exports to markets abroad.

In Private Jets and "Petroleum Club" Dinners, U.S Politicians Get the Dirt on Canadian Tar Sands

Officially, ALEC organized the Alberta tour as an "ALEC Academy." In ALEC’s description of corporate sponsorship opportunities, this type of event is described as being "an intensive, two--day program for legislators that focus on a specific area of policy." It comes with an $80,000 fee to sponsor. Unofficially however, and made clear to legislators on the trip in emails from ALEC obtained by CMD, the expenses were paid for by lobbyists from the oil-industry and by the government of Alberta. In an email sent to Ohio representative John Adams ahead of the trip, ALEC staffer Karla Jones reassured participants that all transportation, accommodation costs and meals would be paid for.

According to a copy of the trip itinerary obtained via a public records request, legislators flew into Alberta on Tuesday October 16, 2012, and were met by TransCanada lobbyists who took them on a tour of their facilities in Calgary.

TransCanada, which is a member of ALEC, sponsored ALEC’s Spring Task Force Summit in Oklahoma City in May 2013, alongside other corporations with tar sands interests including BP, Devon Energy and Koch Industries. TransCanada’s Vice President Corey Goulet presented to legislators at the conference during a session called "Embracing American Energy Opportunities."

Dinner on the first night was at the up-market Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in downtown Calgary, paid for by American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM). The dinner included a presentation to the captive audience of lawmakers from AFPM about Low-Carbon Fuel Standards (LCFS), a mechanism designed to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. As CMD has reported recently, LCFS is considered a real threat to the tar sands industry, because it might restrict the U.S. market for fuels derived from the tar sands. AFPM, which has funded one of the other groups on the tour – the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) – to work to oppose LCFS legislation, would successfully sponsor an ALEC "model" bill on this issue just weeks after the trip, called "Restrictions on Participation in Low-Carbon Fuel Standards Programs."

On Wednesday morning, after breakfast at the hotel, legislators were taken to the airport where a private charted plane was waiting to fly them around a number of different tar sands operations. Accompanying the legislators and ALEC staffer Karla Jones, were lobbyists from AFPM, TransCanada, Devon Energy, CEA, Shell Oil, and the Government of Alberta. The flight was chartered by the Alberta Government, at a cost of $22,000, with the costs split evenly between them and another unknown entity.

During the day, legislators toured facilities owned by Shell – which also provided lunch – and Devon Energy, where they viewed the massive "Jackfish" tar sands projects. At these facilities, Devon utilizes Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD), an energy intensive process that injects steam into the dirty bitumen to access otherwise inaccessible deposits too deep for mining. This process is expected to open up further areas of Alberta for tar sands extraction, including by Koch Industries subsidiary Koch Exploration Canada which has a pending permit request in Alberta to utilize SAGD.

Dinner on Wednesday night was served at the Petroleum Club, sponsored by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. On the Thursday morning, just before their return flight, legislators did have a brief meeting with a representative from the Pembina Institute, an Alberta environmental group that calls for responsible exploitation of the tar sands. According to the ALEC trip itinerary, this was to "provide the opposing point of view."

Although Pembina does represent a different view from those that want completely unrestrained extraction of the tar sands, the group is not representative of those that oppose tar sands extraction. There are plenty of organizations that could have provided alternative viewpoints, particularly first nation tribes who are campaigning vigorously on this issue, but perhaps unsurprisingly they were not included. Even Pembina’s - somewhat limited - opposing voice was not wanted during the tour of the oil sands facilities, and they were not invited to the lobbyist-sponsored dinners.

ALEC as Emily Post

A month after the trip, the Director of International and Federal Relations at ALEC, Karla Jones, sent participants an email helpfully reminding them of what each industry lobbyist had paid for on the tour. CMD obtained a copy of that communication via a public records request, which included a spreadsheet containing the names, telephone numbers and mailing addresses of each of the lobbyists on the trip. The ALEC email also prompted legislators to send each of the sponsoring corporations a "thank you note."

The phenomenon of ALEC legislators sending such letters to lobbyists is something CMD has previously reported on. Ohio Rep. Adams, for example, sent at least a dozen letters to corporate lobbyists in 2010, thanking them for writing checks to the ALEC scholarship fund, which paid his and his colleagues way to an ALEC conference.

"Because of your help and others like you, the trip to ALEC was made possible for our legislators," Adams wrote to AT&T lobbyist Bob Blazer.

“Rather than sending thank you notes to their corporate lobbyist sponsors, these legislators should instead consider an apology to their constituents,” Stephen Spaulding, Staff Counsel for the good government group Common Cause told CMD. "I doubt lobbyists want thank you notes in return for bankrolling legislators' international vacations – they would rather a bright, shiny souvenir in the form of corporate-drafted legislation."

Better Than a Thank You Note, Payback in Ohio

After the trip to Alberta, Rep. Adams, the Assistant Majority Floor Leader and Ohio ALEC state chair, led the calls in Ohio for the approval of the KXL pipeline, sponsoring a bill (HCR 9) and talking publicly about the proposed pipeline. "It is of the upmost importance that we strongly urge the U.S. government to take the necessary steps towards operation of the Keystone Pipeline," Adams wrote in March 2013 while promoting his bill. Rep. Rosenberger, the other Ohio legislator on the ALEC trip to Alberta, accordingly co-sponsored the Adams bill.

According to documents CMD obtained from public record requests in Ohio, a draft bill was sent to Adams on January 23, from Steve Dimon of 21 Consulting LLC, who represents TransCanada. The bill was sent as an attachment to the Dimon email.

The email message itself simply read, "Thank you so much!"

Dimon stayed in touch with Adams' office over the proceeding months, providing his staff with further materials about Keystone XL, including a set of talking points stamped with the TransCanada logo.

By February 14, Adams had an updated draft that had been reviewed by the Ohio legislative service commission, the non-partisan body that assists legislators with drafting legislation. Adams staffer Ryan Crawford sent this language to Rob Eshenbaugh, a lobbyist with Ohio Petroleum Council, the state affiliate of the American Petroleum Institute. "Please let me know if I can be of further assistance," Crawford wrote to the lobbyist. Eshenbaugh responded with some requested changes, which Crawford then incorporated into the bill.

All this occurred prior to Adams sharing the bill with his fellow legislators, which didn't happen until February 20. Adams finally introduced his bill in the Ohio Assembly on March 9, without any public statement about his involvement with the ALEC Academy or that the source of the bill was a tar sands lobbyist.

The route of the proposed KXL pipeline takes it through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. This is a long way from Ohio, but the debate over the KXL project has become a national issue. The ALEC Academy, and subsequent lobbying from the oil-industry, demonstrates that TransCanada sees value in developing a list of states supportive of the project to influence the federal debate over KXL approval.

The precise details of the ALEC tour, including the trip being part-sponsored by TransCanada, are not mentioned in Adams’ financial disclosures, which only reports his expenses as being from ALEC and the Alberta Government. Adams is not breaking the law here. This is because of the way ALEC works to fund legislator travel. Its scholarship system allows corporations to “sponsor” legislator’s expenses, which are then simply disclosed as being a payment from "ALEC" and not from the sponsoring corporations or groups. CMD documented the ALEC scholarship fund in a 2012 report released jointly with Common Cause: "How the American Legislative Exchange Council Uses Corporate-Funded “Scholarships” to Send Lawmakers on Trips with Corporate Lobbyists."

Graduates of the Keystone Academy appear to be learning a lot about how ALEC works behind the scenes to promote special interest legislation while keeping the public entirely in the dark.

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Peabody Punked, Still "Proud" of Dirty Electricity

  • Posted on: 10 May 2011
  • By: Connor Gibson

Photo Credit: Business Insider

A website campaign known as "Coal Cares" was launched on behalf of Peabody Energy today, offering to distribute free flashy inhalers to children living within 200 miles of a U.S. coal plant.

According to a statement released shortly afterward by Peabody, "The site is in fact a hoax, making inaccurate claims about Peabody and coal."

Sadly, Peabody's reputation doesn't reflect a willingness to own up to its ongoing peddling of coal, which causes death and illness from extraction to combustion. However, they are known for being Newsweek's most environmentally destructive company, their massive Black Mesa strip mining operation and persistent global warming science denial through mouthpieces like Fred Palmer and fronts like the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

Peabody's statement continues [emphasis added], "Peabody is proud to help hundreds of millions of people live longer and better through coal-fueled electricity," except of course for at least 13,000 people in the U.S. coal prematurely kills each year from air pollution alone, let alone the impacts of strip mining, rail transport, mercury contamination, and other phases of coal's life cycle. Check out the conclusions of Dr. Paul Epstein, director of Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment, for the True Cost of Coal.


While Peabody's statement pledges to be a "global leader" in scrubbing its inherently dirty operations, their money does not appear to be where their mouth is. Since the beginning of 2011, Peabody has already spent almost $2,000,000 on federal lobbying on numerous dirty legislative deeds, such as attacking the Clean Air Act, preventing pollution regulation of coal operations, promoting false Carbon Capture and Storage solutions, which the American Physical Society just declared to be prohibitively costly. Prior to 2011, Peabody spent over $20 million on similar efforts from 2008-2010, on top of almost $400,000 to federal politicians and their leadership PACs in the same time frame.

More about the Peabody prank can be found on the website of the Yes Men, who have taken credit for the actions that Peabody should actually commit to. Too bad for the asthmatic children whose parents do have to take economic responsibility for the coal industry.

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Don Blankenship Retires!!

  • Posted on: 7 December 2010
  • By: JesseColeman

The infamous Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy Company, has announced he will retire at the end of December.  Given the storms Blankenship had weathered in the past, it came as somewhat of a surprise that the climate change denying, union busting, federal judge bribing, safety law violating, mountain top destroyer is finally calling it quits.  

His decision to leave was likely at the behest of the Massey board, which has announced its intention to sell the company.  Blankenship had always been an obstacle to the sale, publicly decrying the idea by comparing Massey to a “broken down truck” in need of fixing before being put on the market.

As the face of Massey Energy, Blankenship also posed a serious public relations obstacle to any potential sale.  Recently called the “Dark Lord of Coal Country” by the Rolling Stone Magazine, he was a ripe target for those wishing to draw attention to the death and destruction caused by an unapologetic coal industry.  

The embattled CEO is also facing growing legal trouble of his own due to the Upper Big Branch mine explosion.  A judge in West Virginia declined to throw out two separate lawsuits that hold Blankenship personally responsible for the disaster.  Two women widowed by the UBB explosion filed the lawsuits, which Blankenship hoped would be dismissed.  The judge’s decision was announced shortly before Blankenship made public his departure, adding to speculation that he had become a public relations hindrance to Massey’s sale.  

Investors have agreed wholeheartedly with the change in leadership, sending Massey’s stock soaring after news of Blankenship’s retirement.

It is important to remember that as influential as Blankenship was, it is the Massey Energy Company that is ultimately responsible for it’s multiple mining disasters.  Blankenship has been an obvious figurehead for what is wrong with Massey and the coal industry culture at large, but his departure should not distract attention from the fact that coal companies want coal, and they do not care about the environmental and human costs endemic to its extraction.
 

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Blankenship to Face Two Lawsuits from Upper Big Branch Widows

  • Posted on: 6 December 2010
  • By: JesseColeman

Don Blankenship


Massey CEO Don Blankenship, West Virginia's strip mining overlord, faces two lawsuits that hold him personally responsible for the Upper Big Branch coal mining disaster which killed 29 men.  A Judge in west Virginia ruled that two separate lawsuits, brought by two women widowed by Massey's UBB mine, will not be dismissed as Blankenship had hoped.

Blankenship is accused of being  “willfully negligent” in his direction of the company subsidiaries operating the mine, which violated a host of federal and state safety regulations prior to the explosion.

For more see the Bloomberg News article by Chris Stratton and Margaret Cronin Fisk.
 

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Massey Continues Campaign to Dodge Responsibility for Upper Big Branch Disaster

  • Posted on: 22 November 2010
  • By: JesseColeman

Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy


Massey Energy recently released a new report claiming the company’s safety practices were not to blame for the Upper Big Branch mining disaster that killed 29 people. Massey Energy’s chief executive Don Blankenship maintains the explosion was caused by natural occurrences and not from unsafe coal mining and ventilation procedures.  He says the report "illustrates that it's something unusual, that it's more likely than not that it came out of the floor… and not out of the natural mining process,” refuting the widely held theory that the deadly explosion was due to the willful disabling of methane detectors.  

The report, authored by Massey “experts,” is the company’s latest contrivance in their campaign to discredit and obstruct government investigations into the disaster.  Other elements of their strategy have included physically keeping investigators from inspecting machinery at the mine, preventing top safety officials from testifying, and publicly accusing the state and federal governments of lying.  Because of Massey’s repeated attempts to sabotage the investigation, MSHA officials have threatened to seize the mine, an extreme action that illustrates the level of hostility felt by investigators.

Avoiding or reducing their liability is of utmost importance to Massey Energy executives, who have announced they were considering all offers for a buy out.  The company has not hit its production targets since 2004, has suffered multiple deadly disasters related to poor safety practices, and posted a net loss of $41.4 million last quarter. Given the fact that any company that buys Massey would be liable for the damages wrought at UBB, company executives have little chance of pawning their problems off on a buyer if the MSHA finds Massey at fault for the UBB explosion.  This means that Massey execs are frantically trying to limit their responsibility for UBB, or at least prolong the investigation long enough to sell the company before the roof falls in on their heads.   

 

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