Massey CEO ends profitable career marred by blast

Don Blankenship
Massey Energy Co. CEO Don Blankenship will retire at the end of the month, finishing a nearly 30-year career that included big profits for the company but also fights with labor and federal regulators and a recent mine explosion that killed 29 people.Carolyn Kaster / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Massey Energy Chairman and CEO Don Blankenship announced Friday that he will retire at the end of the month, finishing a nearly 30-year career that included big profits for the company but also labor conflicts, battles with federal regulators and a 2010 mine explosion that killed 29 people.

A millionaire who rose from obscure beginnings in coal country, Blankenship oversaw an ongoing plan to expand the production of Appalachian coal for growing Asian markets, but will leave behind a company that was badly shaken by a history-making mine disaster.

The company's board of directors named current president Baxter F. Phillips Jr. as Blankenship's successor, effective Friday. Blankenship's retirement date is Dec. 31.

"After almost three decades at Massey it is time for me to move on," Blankenship said in a prepared statement. "Baxter and I have worked together for 28 years and he will provide the company great executive leadership."

Blankenship, who has served as chairman and CEO since 2000, leaves at a time when Massey's safety practices are under scrutiny by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration and the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training.

It also comes at a time when Massey's board is viewing its strategic options. In recent weeks there have been reports that Massey is a possible takeover target for rivals such as Alpha Natural Resources and steel industry giant ArcelorMittal SA.

Based in Richmond, Va., Massey is the nation's fourth-largest coal producer by revenue. It operates 19 mining complexes in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky.

Massey is under investigation for the April 5 explosion at its Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia that killed 29 and injured two. The blast was the worst U.S. coal mining disaster since 1970 and the subject of civil and criminal investigations.

Blankenship was expected to meet with state regulators on Dec. 14 as part of their investigation.

Massey said it lost money in the third quarter of this year because of tougher federal regulations after the mine blast that hurt production

Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, called Blankenship "one of the most aggressive, intelligent and certainly one of the most outspoken leaders in the coal industry.

"I don't think it's any of my business whether it's good or bad, I've just observed that Don's been quite a leader over the years," Raney said.