“We are looking more at M&A as a possibility,” Blankenship told guests and media at the Dahlman Rose and Company event.
The company is reviewing its strategic options, he said, as the Massey board has been exploring whether to pursue a sale and open a formal auction.
“There will be a separate and distinct focus on M&A,” he added.
While several companies have been discussed in the media as potential buyers – Alpha Natural Resources submitted an informal bid, Arch Coal and Consol Energy both have been mentioned but have not confirmed talks – Blankenship did not address specific companies.
“I can’t speak to rumors,” he told the attendees, but noted that Massey was also looking at the possibility of recapitalizing to pay investors or to buy back shares, or even doing nothing.
Steelmaker ArcelorMittal has reportedly said it is interested in buying Massey if put up for sale, and Coal India confirmed last weekend that it was in talks to buy stakes in Massey operations.
Blankenship noted there could be joint ventures with other operators or equity investments by customers in the company’s future.
"There will continue to be industry consolidation," he said.
Natural gas to blame for UBB?
According to The Wall Street Journal, Blankenship also spoke at the conference about the April explosion at the Upper Big Branch operation. Massey is reportedly looking to natural gas – rather than methane gas – as the cause of the blast that killed 29 workers.
"The biggest discovery that we've made out of that is that we have a natural-gas inundation, as opposed to a coalbed-methane inundation," he told the New York City crowd.
The discovery was made during the company’s own investigation of the Raleigh County operation. While gas emitted from coal is almost completely methane, natural gas from other sources could have entered the workings from strata below and created a mix that would contain about 90% methane and other gases such as ethane and propane, as well as natural gas.
"[The finding] illustrates that it's something unusual, that it's more likely than not that it came out of the floor, which has been a big debate, and not out of the natural mining process," Blankenship said.
Natural gas entering the mine could change operators’ perspectives on explosion protection in the future, he reportedly said.
"It probably is a discovery that will help central Appalachia and other parts of the country as well. Most often the industry in these situations is not focusing on the possibility of natural gas. We think it's a big discovery, and there will be a lot more of that coming out over the next few weeks."
UBB investigations by the company, state officials and federal regulators are all ongoing.