WILLIAMSON – The sister of a miner killed in the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion is being featured in a television ad to be released asking for the truth about what happened at the mine.
Gwen Thomas is the sister of Grover Skeens.
Thomas specifically asks if the United States Mine Safety and Health Administration insisted that changes be made which reduced Upper Big Branch’s airflow before the explosion.
She also requests in the ad that the government release the gas analyses taken immediately after and for several days following the explosion.
MSHA has maintained that the explosion was a dust explosion. Strong airflow is a critical element of avoiding gas explosions in coal mines. MSHA has never publicly acknowledged that they required the mine to cut its airflow before the explosion.
The government's witnesses testified under oath in a criminal trial that MSHA was adamant that changes be made shortly before the explosion, which cut the air in half. All this despite the fact that a former MSHA mine ventilation specialist and 35-year veteran of MSHA testified at trial that he begged MSHA managers not to do so.
Thomas said in the ad that she has asked MSHA these questions before but that her inquiries have gone answered. She goes on to request the assistance of President Donald Trump and U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) to help get answers.
Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, which owned the mine at the time of the explosion, is paying for the airing of the television advertisement.
Blankenship said the UBB truth must be told for the sake and safety of coal miners today and in the future.
Last month, Thomas told WVVA that she felt pressured to blame Massey for the mine explosion, but that she received backlash when she said she didn’t feel that Blankenship and Massey were to blame.
Thomas told WVVA she felt that the explosion was a result of an act of God and lack of air mandated by MSHA.
Skeens was 57. He had worked in coal mines for nearly 30 years. He had two children, Renee Bishop and Jeff Skeens.
Blankenship was convicted in 2015 of conspiring to violate federal mine safety and health standards during the 15-month period before the April 5, 2010, explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine. Blankenship was sentenced to one year in prison by U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger in April 2016.
The advertisement will begin airing on Aug. 19.