Coal Tattoo

Friday roundup, Aug. 27, 2010

An image made from a video released by Television Nacional de Chile via the Chilean government Thursday Aug. 26, 2010, shows one of the trapped miners waving at the camera. (AP Photo/Television Nacional de Chile)

I’m sure Coal Tattoo readers have been following the news out of Chile about the 33 miners trapped deep inside a copper mine.

The latest news, of course, is the video message from the miners that was released earlier today by the Chilean government:

The New York Times had a good roundup of various clips from that video message, and described the video this way:

The miners, who have been trapped for three weeks almost half a mile underground, appear in good spirits and reasonably good health in the new video images of them in their subterranean home.

The video, shown to family members late Thursday night and on Chilean national television, was recorded by a minicamera sent by the government in the plastic tubes being used to deliver food and other items through a hole about four inches in diameter.

In the 45-minute video the miners are shown shirtless, most with mustaches and beards. One miner, with his helmet light illuminating the area, tours the space where the miners are holed up and describes the conditions.

Several news organizations have posted parts of the new video online. Near the start of a clip uploaded to YouTube by The Associated Press (embedded above), one miner can be seen telling the rescue workers above: “It takes courage to not leave us abandoned. We know everything you’ve been doing outside.”

An older miner added this message: “I’d like to say hello to my grandchildren and all my family. Stay together.”

Alberto Segovia, brother of miner Dario Segovia, one of the 33 miners trapped at the San Jose mine, lights candles outside the mine in Copiapo, Chile, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010.

There has obviously been tons and tons of media coverage of this story, including a piece from the Christian Science Monitor about safety standards in Chilean mines:

But as a team of diggers, doctors, and psychiatrists focuses on a mammoth rescue effort that could take up to four months, the nation is grappling with how this happened, and how to prevent such a collapse in the future.

“Chile has a free-market economy where the first principle is to maximize profit without any other consideration. We need to take other things into consideration, including worker security,” Augustin Latorre, spokesman for the Mining Federation, an association of 22 unions at private mines, said in a telephone interview. “The state should offer, in particular in mines, the necessary security measures and inspections. We aren’t demanding that mines be closed, but that they be secure.”

Sandro Rojas Carrizo reads a letter he just wrote to his brother Esteban, one of 33 miners trapped at the San Jose collapsed mine in Copiapo, Chile, Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2010.

There’s other coverage from Time magazine, The Guardian, NPR, and this from The Associated Press via the Seattle Times:

While 33 men trapped in a mine cling to hope that they’ll get out alive, the company that put them there says it can’t afford to pay their salaries and may go bankrupt.

The San Esteban mining company is in such bad shape that it has neither the equipment nor the money to rescue the men; Chile’s state-owned mining company is digging the escape tunnel, which will cost about $1.7 million.

In the days after the Aug. 5 tunnel collapse at the San Jose gold and copper mine, company leaders defended their safety measures but have since remained silent, and attempts to reach anyone at San Esteban were not successful.

Lawyers for the small mining company said this week that with the mine shut down and no income, the company was at a high risk for bankruptcy.

Lilianette Ramirez, wife of miner Mario Gomez, holds the first letter retrieved from her husband who is trapped in the collapsed San Jose mine in Copiapo, Chile, Tuesday Aug. 24, 2010.

Several people have asked me about the “refuge” or “chamber” in which these miners survived, but my understanding is that this was an area cut into one of the mine tunnels and stocked with supplies, rather than a hardened refuge chamber like the ones now required in American coal mines.

In this combo of undated photographs released by Diario Atacama are seen the 33 miners who are trapped alive in the San Jose mine in Copiapo, Chile since it collapsed on Aug. 5, 2010. Top row from left to right are Alex Vega Salazar, Ariel Ticona Yanez, Carlos Andres Bugueno Alfaro, Calros Barrios Contreras, Carlos Mamani Solis, Claudio Antonio Acuna Cortes, Claudio David Yanez Lagos, Daniel Esteban Herrera Campos, Dario Antonio Segovia Rojas, Edison Fernando Pena Villarroel and Esteban Alfonso Rojas Carrizo. Second row from left to right are Florencio Antonio Avalos Silva, Franklin Lobos Ramirez, Jimmy Sanchez Lagues, Jorge Hernan Galleguillos, Jorge Ricardo Ojeda Vidal, Jose Samuel Henriquez Gonzalez, Juan Andres Illanes Palma, Juan Carlos Aguilar Gaete, Luis Alberto Urzua, Mario Nicolas Gomez Heredia and Mario Sepulveda Espina. Third row from left to right are Omar Orlando Reygada Rojas, Osman Isidro Araya Acuna, Pablo Amadeos Rojas Villacorta, Pedro Cortez, Raul Enriquez Bustos Ibanez, Renan Anselmo Avalos Silva, Richard Reinaldo Villarroel Godoy, Samuel Dionisio Avalos Acuna, Victor Antonio Segovia Rojas, Victor Hermogenes Zamora Bugueno and Johny Barrios Rojas. (AP Photo/Diario Atacama)

In coal mining news and commentary this week:

— The New York Times reports that Democrats in Appalachia are running away from the Obama administration’s coal record like their political lives depend on it.

— Here in West Virginia, the Daily Mail’s Ry Rivard reported that Gov. Joe Manchin skipped a Senate candidate debate to attend a campaign fundraiser hosted for him by a coal operator.

— The AP, via Business Week, reported on the TVA’s consideration of idling some of its coal power plant fleet.

— Via The New York Times, Greenwire reports that The Obama administration has urged the Supreme Court to toss out an appeals court decision that would allow lawsuits against major emitters for their contributions to global warming, stunning environmentalists who see the case as a powerful prod on climate change.

— The Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media had an interesting piece (quoting yours truly) about coverage of carbon capture and sequestration.

— In Kentucky, there was a report from the Herald-Leader that At least four entertainment acts have refused to perform during the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games because a coal company is one of the major sponsors.

— We also had two Associated Press stories about surprise inspections at the nation’s coal mines.

One recounted an MSHA news release that warned against tipping off underground miners to the arrival of agency inspectors. The other was more interesting, detailing the results of some of these surprise inspections, as described in another MSHA news release:

The inspectors found numerous violations including failure to follow the mine’s approved ventilation plan, inadequate roof support, and accumulation of combustible materials.

MSHA chief Joe Main commented:

The conditions found at these mines, discovered when MSHA worked to thwart any advance notice, underscores the importance of the program information bulletins on ventilation the agency recently circulated throughout the mining industry, as well as the need for the legislative reforms pending before Congress.

Howard Berkes at NPR blogged about this, pointing out a previous NPR piece by Frank Langfitt about tipping off inspectors and noting these interesting comments from National Mining Association spokeswoman Carol Raulston objecting to the MSHA inspection sweeps and news release about them:

Carol Raulston, a spokeswoman at the National Mining Association, said MSHA’s response has been overly aggressive considering that most mines have a safe track record.

“MSHA’s high public profile on this inspection technique is offensive to the vast majority of U.S. mines that are trying their best to comply with all safety requirements and to improve miner safety,” Raulston said.

Finally, several media outlets — including the Herald-Leader, the Courier-Journal and the Harlan Daily Enterprise — had stories about miner Scott Howard winning his safety discrimination case against Arch Coal. For those who aren’t familiar with his story:

Charles Scott Howard played the video for officials at a meeting in Lexington in July 2007, as regulators considered new rules on mine seals in the wake of explosions that killed 17 men in Kentucky and West Virginia in 2006.

Mine seals are meant to block off water and deadly explosive methane gas in unused parts of mines. Inadequate seals were implicated in both blasts.

The reaction was swift after Howard showed the footage he had shot at the Cumberland River Coal Co. Band Mill No. 2 mine.

Federal inspectors went to the mine that day and ultimately cited alleged safety violations related to seals.

In short order, the company put a discipline letter in Howard’s file.

The company claimed Howard had created an unsafe condition by taking a camera underground, and it said he had violated a company policy on taking photos.

However, that was just a pretext to discipline Howard because company managers were displeased that he had videotaped the seals, Administrative Law Judge T. Todd Hodgdon said in his ruling.

Howard’s actions were protected by the federal mine-safety act, said Hodgdon, a judge with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.

The judge said disciplining Howard could have made him or other miners apprehensive about documenting hazardous conditions.

As Ellen Smith pointed out on The Huffington Post, it was a bittersweet victory:

Howard was just seriously injured in a mine accident July 26 while doing clean-up work in another one of Cumberland’s mines in Virginia. He had been hospitalized in an intensive care unit with a serious head injury, but released to go home on July 29.

Best wishes to Scott Howard for a speedy recovery. Thanks to HuffPost, here are the videos he shot: