Coal miner Massey denies "wilful disregard" in blast

Thu Apr 22, 2010 11:32am EDT

* Massey says no "wilful disregard" in mine blast

* Says 8 Massey mines targeted in inspection "blitz"

* Shares down over 4.5 pct

NEW YORK, April 22 (Reuters) - The explosion that killed 29 miners this month at a West Virginia mine did not result from "wilful disregard" for safety regulations, the head of the mine's owner Massey Energy Inc MEE.N said on Thursday.

Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship also acknowledged that eight Massey mines were targets for an inspection "blitz" by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

His comments came a day after the company said it will take a second-quarter charge of $80 million to $150 million to cover family benefits and costs of the blast at the Upper Big Branch mine.

It will make up for resulting lost steel-making coal production, by increasing operations at other mines, instituting six-day work weeks and adding more miner sections at the coal face.

In Thursday's conference call with Wall Street analysts to discuss first-quarter results -- which beat estimates -- Blankenship brought up the accident in his opening remarks.

"No one wants to learn what caused the explosion at Upper Big Branch more than we do," he said.

"The explosion was not caused by wilful disregard for safety regulations, as the media would have you believe. We have one of the most comprehensive safety programs."

He said Massey was cooperating with federal and state agencies and conducting its own investigation. But he could not say when inspectors might be able to enter the mine, which has been shut since the blast.

Asked about an "inspection blitz" by MSHA to investigate suspected mine safety violations, Blankenship said: "Eight of the 57 mines you have mentioned are Massey mines." He did not identify the mines.

Massey's stock was down 4.5 percent at $41.83 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange. (Reporting by Steve James; Editing by Derek Caney)

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