Blankenship booked into low-security Calif. prison, releases letter criticizing UBB probe

Motion filed by Don Blankenship's attorneys says the Bureau of Prisons has directed him to report to prison Thursday to begin serving a 12-month sentence in California. (WCHS/WVAH)

On the day that former Massey Energy Chief Don Blankenship was scheduled to report to a California prison to begin serving his 12-month sentence, he released a letter that criticizes the government for its handling of the investigation of the Upper Big Branch explosion and said that it incorrectly reached a conclusion about its cause.

Blankenship thanked his supporters for writing character letters on his behalf but most of the letter focuses on his criticisms of the Mine Health and Safety Administration, saying that it destroyed documents and ignored the truth.

"As to the explosion, the media likes to claim that the UMWA report and three government investigation reports are independent, and that they make clear that the explosion was a dust explosion. Neither is true. The reports were not independent and they are not based on science," Blankenship wrote . "We now know that science and chemistry prove the explosion was a natural gas explosion. Forensics makes clear it was neither a coal bed methane explosion nor a coal dust explosion.

"The true scientists (and you can be assured that Massey hired excellent scientists to investigate the UBB explosion) say it in a more complex and complete way, but as ordinary folks all we have to understand is that the explosion was not dirty enough, not hot enough and not powerful enough to have been a dust explosion. Science simply disproves MSHA claims that the explosion was propagated by coal dust. Additionally, chemistry tells us that the gas that exited the mine was clearly natural gas from the ground and not coal bed gas from the coal seam.

"All of this is important because it makes clear that contrary to the government's claims that the coal miners were not doing their jobs, there is no evidence the miners contributed in any way to the explosion. In fact, MSHA inspections in the days prior to the explosion confirmed that the mine was well rock dusted, and other evidence verifies that to be correct. The miners were not in the least responsible for the explosion. They simply could not prevent it, and they could not prevent MSHA from requiring the ventilation airflow to be reduced. The miners could also not prevent, nor foresee, the huge inundation of natural gas that suddenly came from the ground beneath them.

"It is terrible that MSHA refused to admit their error in requiring the air to be reduced and its importance to preventing an explosion such as the one that occurred at UBB. But it's shameful that they would blame those that perished. Most important going forward is that MSHA covered up the truth and, in doing so, has prevented meaningful improvements in regulations that could help reduce the chances of UBB happening again."

Blankenship was booked into Taft Correctional Institution in California about 6 p.m. Thursday, Eastern Standard Time. Taft is a low-security prison that can hold 2,500 inmates.

Tommy Davis, who lost his son, brother and nephew in the explosion, spoke Thursday with Eyewitness News.

"In my mind, deep in my heart, what I feel is that Don Blankenship got charged for completely all the wrong reasons," Davis said. "It should have been murder. It's just not fair. We'll just have to take what they gave us, which is just that one year, and, hopefully, they don't let him get what he wants. Hopefully, they'll stick to their guns and keep him here. Let him stay there for one year."

See the full text of the letter below.

The Fourth Circuit of United States Court of Appeals has denied former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's emergency appeal to keep him out of prison, meaning he will report to prison in California Thursday.

An emergency motion filed by former Massey Energy Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship's attorneys seeking to keep him out of prison pending his appeal says the Bureau of Prisons directed him to report on Thursday to begin serving his 12-month sentence in California.

The motion filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit does not reveal the specific prison.

Previously, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District would not comment on where Blankenship would serve his prison sentence. Under the Bureau of Prison's policy, designations are not released until a person serving a sentence arrives at his or her destination.

Blankenship was sentenced April 6 to the maximum prison time and fine of $250,000 for conspiring to willfully violate mine safety standards at Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. A jury convicted him Dec. 3. A coal mine exploded there in 2010, killing 29 men.

"In view of Mr. Blankenship's prison surrender date - the day after tomorrow - a stay is appropriate here," Blankenship's attorneys said in the motion. "Unless the court will resolve the pending motion for release tomorrow, an administrative stay is needed to provide the court with time to rule on the motion, and if the court grants, the motion, to preserve the court's ability to provide relief."

See the full motion below.

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