Mine Tragedy Amid Push to Produce More

Upper Big Branch Mine was one of the sites where Massey Energy was ramping up production to meet overseas demand for metallurgical coal.

When Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship announced plans this year for a 20 percent increase in exports of metallurgical coal -- the high heat-content rock that is mined underground -- Wall Street analysts asked him how he aimed to do it.

Blankenship noted the company had many ways to ship its coal out of central Appalachia, not only to East Coast ports but south to New Orleans or north to the Great Lakes. Asked during a February 4 conference call if the mines themselves could prove to be a barrier to Massey’s long-term goals, Blankenship suggested otherwise.

“I'd rather say the mine is where the opportunity to increase the volume is,” he said.

Massey’s drive to ramp up its underground production is

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