CHARLESTON -- A lawyer for families of two of the miners who were killed in the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster called Massey Energy's handling of the investigation into the explosion a "PR campaign."
Charleston lawyer Timothy Bailey described the coal company's recent press conferences as "spin."
Bailey represents the families of Adam Morgan and Joe Marcum, two of the 29 miners who lost their lies in the April 5 explosion near Montcoal in Raleigh County.
"It's very frustrating for (the families) to have to listen to them give clearly what is a PR campaign to make sure their stock prices don't plummet," Bailey said Tuesday. "I mean, that's why they're doing this. They realize they have a problem.
"But it's just horrible that we get this one-sided piecemeal information, handed down by the company lawyer no less."
Bailey, who also currently serves as the president of the West Virginia Association of Justice, had harsh words for Massey following a company press conference about the investigation last week.
He told the Charleston Gazette-Mail over the weekend that the news conference on Thursday was a "shameful attempt to circumvent the official investigative process" and that the company was "polluting the process" with incomplete information.
On Thursday, Massey told reporters that the disaster may have been caused by "a sudden inundation of unusually high levels of methane gas," probably released from a crack in the floor near the mine's longwall machine.
The company based its theory on, at least in part, data showing a doubling of the mine's methane liberation rate more than five hours after the explosion.
The coal company previously said pre-shift safety examinations just prior to the explosion showed no methane problems. Thursday's news conference did not include any data for immediately before the blast.
Federal and state investigators dismissed Massey's theory, saying the huge jump in methane following the explosion would be expected, and was likely caused by damaged ventilation controls or blown-out seals that allowed the mine's natural methane to be more readily released.
Then, on Friday, Massey issued a new statement to emphasize it did not use the specific phrase "act of God" to describe its theory of the disaster's cause.
An "act of God" is legally defined as "an event outside of human control for which no one can be held responsible."
The April explosion was the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in 40 years, and is now the focus of various civil investigations and a congressional probe. It's also forced federal prosecutors to begin their own investigation.
Bailey said of the miners' families, "They want to know what happened. They want to know why it happened. They are perfectly willing to allow the authorities to do a thorough investigation."
But he said they're frustrated with Massey's "spin."
"We're going to challenge them to have a press conference and let us know when the investigation turns out any bad information (in regards to their company)," he said.
"Of course, I think we all know that probably won't happen."
Bailey said several of the miners' families are being represented, but could not say that all of them were.
"If they're so confident that they didn't do anything wrong, let the process work through," he said of the coal company. "Quit trying to manipulate the information."
Davitt Mcteer, Gov. Joe Manchin's special investigator, is looking into what Massey did, if anything, to prevent a recurrence of previous methane "outbursts" and what actions federal and state regulators took after those previous incidents.
Bailey said the state authorities, along with those from the Mine Safety and Health Administration, are keeping them up-to-date on any new findings.
At the same time, Bailey said, they're being careful before making any firm statements regarding cause and responsibility.
"They want to make sure they have as much information as possible," he said of the investigators.
Bailey said some of the information authorities have gathered and shared with the families does, in fact, contradict that coming from the Massey news conferences. He would not elaborate.
But the investigation is going to take time, and the families know that, he said.
"It's a very large area, a very large mine, so it's going to take awhile before they know everything and we know everything," he said.