Former Coal CEO Blankenship Tells WSJ He Doesn’t Plan to Return to Mining

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship tells the Wall Street Journal that despite incorporating several companies in Kentucky, he doesn’t have plans to return to the coal business.

Blankenship was at the helm of Massey during the 2010 Upper Big Branch explosion in West Virginia, and retired several months later. He hasn’t been charged in the investigation into the explosion, but one of his colleagues was charged yesterday with participating in a conspiracy to violate federal mine safety laws.

Blankenship told the Wall Street Journal’s Kris Maher that despite incorporating McCoy Coal, reappearing on Twitter and launching a flashy new website, he has no plans to either run for office or return to coal.

“I don’t have much in the way of plans with coal,” said Mr. Blankenship, noting that he believes central Appalachian coal won’t be competitive with natural gas for a long time. Although he founded McCoy Coal Group last year and is listed as an officer at several other firms, he said he doesn’t plan to seek mining permits or buy up reserves. “It is easier to make money in the stock market than coal,” he said.

He said he has no plans to run for office at this time. “I don’t think I’m electable,” he said, but added he could change his mind and “run for something just to speak my mind.”

Blankenship was Massey’s CEO for a decade, running operations in Central Appalachia. But he doesn’t think the outlook for Appalachian coal is good. From the WSJ article:

On the U.S. coal industry’s current woes, Mr. Blankenship said he primarily blames low natural-gas prices “combined with coal costs driven a lot by regulations.” He also cited weakness in the export market stemming from the Chinese slowdown. “So it’s been a host of things that have really hurt the industry,” he said.

He said he expects lower-cost mines in Wyoming and Illinois to compete again with natural gas when gas prices “normalize,” but he took a darker view of mines in West Virginia where he ran Massey’s coal operations for more than two decades.

“Central Appalachia steam coal is in big trouble,” he said. “I don’t really see them being competitive with gas for a long time.”

Blankenship’s non-compete clause with Alpha Natural Resources (which bought Massey in 2011) runs out at the end of December. It’ll be interesting to see whether he changes his mind and gets back in the coal business then.

Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

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