Coal Tattoo

What can we learn from the Chilean mine rescue?

In this photo released by the Chilean presidential press office, Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera, front right, hugs rescued miner Florencio Avalos after Avalos was rescued from the collapsed San Jose gold and copper mine where he was trapped with 32 other miners for over two months near Copiapo, Chile, Tuesday Oct. 12, 2010. (AP Photo/Jose Manuel de la Maza, Chilean presidential press office)

As folks in the coalfields of the United States are glued to their televisions watching the rescue of the Chilean copper and gold miners, it’s only natural to think about what the coal-mining industry could learn from this experience.

It’s worth noting that it was an American drilling crew — a Somerset, Pa., team that was involved in the 2002 Quecreek Mine rescue — that provided that drill that actually broke through to the part of the mine where those 33 workers had been trapped for more than two months.

We’ve talked before about problematic safety standards in Chilean mines, but there’s something else that sticks in the back of my mind as I watched the incredible rescue so far away in Chile.

The last major mine safety story I wrote before April 5 was headlined, Four years after Sago, few mines have new communications gear.  That March 20 Gazette story reported:

More than four years after the Sago Mine disaster, fewer than one of every 10 underground coal mines in the United States has added improved communications and tracking equipment that could help miners escape an explosion or fire.

Last week, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration released an updated count of mine operators who have installed new communications and tracking gear required by Congress after Sago and a series of other disasters in 2006.

Nationwide, 415 active underground mines are required to have added this equipment. But, according to MSHA’s most recent count, only 34 have such equipment installed and fully operational. That’s a little more than 8 percent, according to the MSHA data, which was released during a mine safety conference at Wheeling Jesuit University.

I wrote a related blog post here, in which I discussed how Democratic congressional leaders — with the exception of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd — didn’t want to comment for that story.

Now, we’ve learned already that the emergency response to the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster didn’t necessarily go as smoothly as it could have.  And at the point I published that story about the lack of progress on emergency gear, it had been two years since a scathing review by the U.S. Government Accountability Office of the implementation of the mine rescue reforms mandated by the MINER Act.

Regulatory agencies and politicians — and we in the media — tend to respond to emergencies, and to focus only on the crisis at hand. Currently for MSHA, that’s dealing with the Upper Big Branch disaster investigation and struggling to clear up the backlog of appealed citations and fines at the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.

Preventing disasters, and thus preventing the need for mine rescues, is of course the proper focus. But some things just keep creeping into my mind, like, well — who in Congress is asking MSHA and NIOSH what the heck is up with their ongoing (and very secretive) investigation of the CSE SR-100 self-contained self-rescuer that so many American coal miners rely on in case of an explosion or fire? (See previous posts here, here, here and here).

Legislation to further reform coal-mine safety in this country appears stalled for now … but in the meanwhile, why don’t Democratic congressional leaders hold hearings just to check in on the MINER Act’s mine rescue provisions? Even with a Democrat in the White House and a UMWA safety director running MSHA, don’t members of Congress have a responsibility to perform some stronger oversight in this area?

In this screen grab taken from video, Jorge Galeguillos, center, the eleventh miner to be rescued from the San Jose Mine near Copiapo, Chile, is shown after his rescue Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010. (AP Photo)

First Chilean miner emerges from underground

In this screen grab taken from video, Florencio Avalos, the first miner to be rescued, center, is greeted after his rescue Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010 at San Jose Mine, a copper and gold operation near Copiapo, Chile. (AP Photo)

From The Associated Press:

SAN JOSE MINE, Chile — Florencio Avalos, the first of 33 miners to be rescued, has surfaced after 69 days underground.

He stepped out of a rescue capsule amid sobs from his young son and received a bracing bear hug from Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.

Avalos smiled widely as he hugged rescuers, then Pinera, as his wife, two sons and father looked on. His 7-year-old son Bairo sobbed, as did Chile’s first lady, Cecilia Morel. Then Avalos was escorted into a medical triage center for the first of a battery of tests.

Follow live updates from The Guardian online here, and read a collection of stories from The New York Times here.

Mining Minister Laurence Golborne and rescue chief Andre Sougarrete, right, hold hands as rescue worker Manuel Gonzalez Paves is lowered in the capsule into the mine where miners are trapped to begin the rescue at the San Jose Mine near Copiapo, Chile, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010.

UPDATED, 8 a.m. Charleston, W.Va. time:

The Guardian’s live coverage blog reports that 10 of the miners have so far been lifted out of the mine in Chile. Here’s a link to the latest New York Times report, and here’s another photo from the rescue scene:

In this photo released by the Chilean government, miner Osman Araya, right, greets a relative moments after being rescued from the collapsed San Jose gold and copper mine where he had been trapped with 32 other miners for over two months near Copiapo, Chile, early Wednesday Oct. 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Hugo Infante, Chilean government)

I’m sure folks in the coalfields are closely following the story of the 33 copper and gold miners in Chile, for whom rescue may be drawing closer — if nothing goes wrong during the rest of this very dangerous effort.

I’ll post the entire latest Associated Press story below, and there’s some good coverage of this also from The Guardian online here, with updates expected to be posted here.

SAN JOSE MINE, Chile (AP) — Fresh air and freedom were just hours away Tuesday for the first of 33 miners trapped a half-mile underground for 69 days, men whose endurance and unity captivated the world as the Chilean government meticulously prepared their rescue. No one in the history of mining has been trapped so long and survived.

The first miner was expected to be lifted to the surface late Tuesday in a custom-made capsule. President Sebastian Pinera was at the mine, waiting to greet him.

“We made a promise to never surrender, and we kept it,” Pinera said at about 5:45 p.m. local time (4:45 p.m. EDT), shortly before two rescue workers were expected to go down to prepare the miners for their trip. The president said the first miner will be brought up about two hours later.

Chile has taken extensive precautions to ensure the miners’ health and privacy, sending down Navy special forces paramedics to prepare them for the trip and using a screen to block the top of the shaft from more than 1,000 journalists at the scene.

In this frame grab from a video released by the Chilean government, a camera set up on top of the capsule that will carry the trapped miners to the surface shows the tunnel as it is going up during a test at the San Jose Mine near Copiapo, Chile, Monday, Oct. 11, 2010. Authorities said all would be in place at midnight Tuesday to begin the rescue of the 33 trapped miners. (AP Photo/Government of Chile)

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AP on ‘China’s deadly mines’

In this April 3, 2010 file photo, rescuers take a rest at the Wangjialing Coal Mine in Xiangning county, in north China’s Shanxi province. China’s media is raising a grisly new question as accidents in the world’s most dangerous mining industry continue: Where are the dead mining bosses? (AP Photo, File)

Here’s a report out today by Cara Anna of The Associated Press:

BEIJING (AP) — A month ago, China’s premier ordered mining officials to go down into the shafts with their workers, but the step meant to improve safety in the world’s deadliest mines hasn’t saved lives.

More than 100 people have died in that time, with 21 people killed in two mine accidents reported Tuesday. State media have noted with surprising sharpness that none of the dead seemed to have been mine managers or bosses.

“Who knew that every boss who goes into the shaft is a god: Flooding, explosions, whatever it is, they can always fly free,” the official Xinhua News Agency said in a pointed commentary Tuesday.

The editorial came in response to a weekend disaster, where a flooded mine trapped two dozen workers in northern China. Only two people escaped; both were managers.

At a news conference Monday near the mine in northern Heilongjiang province, one reporter asked: Had the managers even been inside the mine at all?

By Tuesday, both managers and the mine’s owners were in police custody, China National Radio reported. It wasn’t clear why.

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17 dead, 24 trapped in 2 Chinese mine accidents

In this Saturday July 31, 2010 photo released by China’s Xinhua news agency, an injured boy receives medical treatment in a hospital in Yicheng, north China’s Shangxi province. A blast at a workers’ dormitory killed at least 17 people in a northern city with a history of deadly mine accidents. The explosion in the early morning hours on Saturday was blamed on explosives that had been illegally hidden in the area, Xinhua reported, citing a senior official with the mine’s owner, Yangquan Coal Industry (Group) Co. Ltd. (AP Photo/Xinhua/Yan Yan)

At least 17 people are dead and 24 unaccounted for following two coal-mining-related accidents in China over the weekend. As the Xinhau news agency reported:

The death toll in an explosion at a coal mine in Linfen City of north China’s Shanxi Province early Saturday has risen to 17 after another two bodies were found, local authorities said.

The blast at Liugou Coal Mine of Yicheng County also left 104 persons injured, seven of them seriously, as of 11 p.m. Saturday, said Wang Jianshe, head of the county’s People’s Hospital, where all the injured were admitted.

The report added:

Basic search and rescue work is over, said a senior official of Yangquan Coal Industry (Group) Co. Ltd, which owns the mine. The official said that the blast took place in the dormitory area, where most of buildings were destroyed by the powerful explosion.

A miner surnamed Zhang told Xinhua that families of many miners had come to live here because the children were currently on their summer vacation.

But officials so far have not disclosed how many children and women had died during the accident.

Zhang said he saw a couple died after huge stones fell on them in a dormitory room.

Initial investigation showed that the blast was caused by explosives hidden illegally in the area, and a suspect has been detained by the police, the official said.

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More troubles in the coalfields of China

In this photo provided by China’s Xinhua News Agency, rescuers head to examine the fire conditions at Xiaonangou coal mine at Sangshuping Township of Hancheng City, northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, on Sunday, July 18, 2010. An electrical fire inside the coal shaft in northern China left 28 miners dead, a government official said Sunday. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Liu Xiao)

There’s bad news again out of the coalfields of China, where 28 workers were killed and 13 trapped in separate incidents.

In one incident, 28 miners were killed in an underground fire in northwest China’s Shaanxi Province Saturday. In the other, two bodies have been recovered and 11 miners remain unaccounted for after a mine flooded in northwest China’s Gansu Provinc.

Meanwhile, Chinese police have arrested 8 people after a violent clash outside a coal mine in north China that media said left dozens injured, highlighting the country’s festering problems of corruption and land ownership disputes.

The other insurgency: Coal in Pakistan

In this photo taken on June 30, 2010, a Pakistani mine worker waits for a help to load coal on a truck in Chamalang in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. This mine reopened with the army’s help. (AP Photo/Sebastian Abbot)

Here’s an interesting story from The Associated Press:

By SEBASTIAN ABBOT

CHAMALANG, Pakistan (AP) — With every bag of coal Madad Khan dumps into trucks at this mine reopened with the army’s help, Pakistan hopes it is moving closer to quelling a 60-year-old nationalist insurgency in this restive southwest province where Afghan Taliban leaders are rumored to hide.

Echoing U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in neighboring Afghanistan, the army has peppered Baluchistan with dozens of development projects to win hearts and minds, an effort officials say has accelerated in recent months alongside a push by the federal government to address local grievances.

Pakistan hopes to replicate this counterinsurgency strategy in other areas along the Afghan border where the army is battling a separate rebellion led by the Pakistani Taliban. But like the U.S. effort in Afghanistan, many observers are skeptical Pakistan’s recent push in Baluchistan will succeed given the deep distrust of the state and security forces.

“They are unable to pacify the people because the political and economic alienation of the local population is huge,” said Riffat Hussain, professor of defense studies at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad.

Baluchistan remains Pakistan’s poorest province despite the presence of vast natural resources that residents complain are mainly exploited to fill the central government’s coffers. They also chafe under what they view as effective military rule.

“The government has moved in the right direction, but the province is still virtually under the control of the paramilitary forces and particularly the army,” said Hussain.

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A female relative mourns for a miner killed by a blast at the Xingdong No.2 Coal Mine in Pingdingshan city in central China’s Henan province on Monday, June 21, 2010. State media say at least 46 miners were killed when an explosion ripped through the coal mine. (AP Photo)

As the confirmed death toll in last week’s coal-mine explosion in Colombia, another disaster has struck the coalfields of China.

Here’s the latest from the Xinhua news agency:

A coal mine in central China’s Henan Province where an underground explosion killed 47 people Monday was operating illegally, officials said Tuesday.

The operation license of Xingdong No. 2 Mine in Weidong District, Pingdingshan City, expired on June 6, and the district government cut its electricity supply on June 7, according to local officials.

But mine manager Liu Jianguo still managed to produce coal even as ten district government supervisors were stationed at the mine, said Luo Lin, head of the State Administration of Work Safety.

The shaft should have been sealed with concrete but instead it was covered with a “moveable” cement board, reporters at the scene witnessed.

“The accident shows safety regulations were not strictly observed at the grassroots level and that some regulators may be in cahoots with mine owners,” said Luo.

Seventy-five miners were underground when the blast occurred. Twenty-five of the 28 rescued miners were hospitalized, one of whom has been discharged. Fifteen are in stable conditions while the nine others are in serious conditions.

Here’s some raw video footage:


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Update on the Colombian coal-mining disaster

Relatives cry for victims following an explosion in a coal mine in Amaga, Colombia, Thursday, June 17, 2010. The explosion in northwestern Colombia is believed to have been caused by a buildup of methane gas, and killed at least 16 miners and left dozens trapped more than 10 hours later, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said. (AP Photo/Luis Benavides)

Here’s the latest dispatch from Reuters:

Colombian rescuers struggled against gas and debris to reach more than 50 miners still trapped and feared dead on Friday after a blast tore through a coal mine in the country’s worst mining disaster.

At least 18 bodies were pulled from the wreckage on Thursday after the midnight gas explosion in northwestern Antioquia province. Rescuers had little hope for 53 others caught 6,500 feet (2,000 metres) below the surface.

There’s more news from The New York Times, which reports:

One survivor, Walter Restrepo, 31, said the explosion occurred at the end of his shift. “I was at the mouth of the mine when I felt the explosion, which lifted me into the air,” he told local news media from a hospital where he was recovering from burns to 30 percent of his body.

“At that moment I felt a sudden blaze of fire envelop me,” Mr. Restrepo said.

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16 miners killed, dozens trapped in Colombia

Carolina Torres, right, and Diana Sepulveda, relatives of a person killed in a coal mine explosion, grieve outside the morgue in Amaga, Colombia, Thursday, June 17, 2010. The explosion in northwestern Colombia is believed to have been caused by a buildup of methane gas, which killed at least 16 miners and left dozens trapped, Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe said. (AP Photo/William Fernando Martinez)

Terrible news today from Colombia, where an explosion tore through a coal mine, killed 16 miners and leaving dozens of others trapped. The Associated Press reports:

The blast at the San Fernando mine, believed caused by a buildup of methane gas, collapsed part of an access tunnel that is more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) long and drops to a depth of 500 feet (150 meters), said provincial disaster coordinator John Rendon.

There were 70 to 80 workers in the mine, at a depth of 1,900 to 2,000 feet (600 to 700 meters), when the explosion occurred Wednesday night. Two injured workers managed to escape, officials said.

In addition:

According to a press release from the Colombia Institute of Geology and Mining, a government agency, experts had inspected the mine last month and found that it “didn’t have gas detection devices, one of the fundamental requirements to guarantee safety in case of an explosion.”

Earlier, however, the director of Colombia’s state mining institute, Mario Ballesteros, said that the mine passed a routine annual safety check just last month.

The discrepancy could not immediately be resolved.

Emergency workers carry the body of a victim after a coal mine explosion in Amaga, Colombia, Thursday, June 17, 2010. The explosion in northwestern Colombia is believed to have been caused by a buildup of methane gas, which killed at least 16 miners and left dozens trapped, Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe said. (AP Photo/Luis Benavides)

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32 miners missing after mine explosion in Turkey

This just in from The Associated Press:

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — An explosion ripped through a major coal mine in northern Turkey on Monday, trapping 32 workers, authorities said.

The blast took place at the Karadon mine near the Black Sea port of Zonguldak. There was no immediate word on its cause. It was the third mine accident in Turkey in the past six months.

Gov. Erdal Ata of Zonguldak province said 32 workers were 1,770 feet (540 meters) below ground and there had been no contact with them since the blast.

“We are trying to reach them,” Labor Minister Omer Dincer said.

Engineer Husnu Unal said eight other workers who had been underground were rescued. Some of them suffered from smoke inhalation and were taken to local hospitals, authorities said.

Anxious relatives of the workers waited for news alongside dozens of ambulances at the mine entrance, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.

Safety violations and outdated equipment have been factors in past mine accidents in Turkey.

In February, a methane gas explosion collapsed an underground chamber in a coal mine in northwestern Balikesir province, killing 13 workers. In December, a similar accident killed 19 miners in neighboring Bursa province.

In Turkey’s worst mining disaster, a gas explosion killed 270 workers near Zonguldak in 1992.

Friday roundup, May 14, 2010

Relatives and miners carry a coffin with their colleague killed after explosions at the Raspadskaya mine in the city of Mezhdurechensk in the west Siberian region of Kemerovo, Thursday, May 13, 2010.  (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)

Mass safety inspections of all Russian coal mines were ordered this week, in the wake of two explosions at a Siberian mine that killed at least 66 workers and left 24 others still missing.

The search for the missing is apparently off for at least a week because of fears of more blasts.  Parts of the Raspadskaya mine are going to be flooded to try to force out methane accumulations.

Emergency workers rest during a break in searching at the Raspadskaya mine after it was hit by explosions, in the city of Mezhdurechensk in the west Siberian region of Kemerovo, Thursday, May 13, 2010. Rescue operations to find 24 workers missing in a Siberian coal mine explosion were suspended Thursday because of fears of a new blast. The Russian Emergencies Ministry said Thursday that the death toll from the explosions now stands at 66. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)

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In this photo released by China’s Xinhua news agency, villagers wait outside Yuanyang Colliery Friday, May 14, 2010, a day after a coal mine accident in Puding County, Anshun City of southwest China’s Guizhou Province. The official Xinhua News Agency said Friday that 31 workers were in the mine when the blast happened Thursday night, and that 10 managed to escape. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Ou Dongqu)

Here’s the latest AP dispatch:

State media says the death toll in a coal mine blast in southwest China’s Guizhou province has risen to 21.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Friday that 31 workers were in the mine when the blast happened Thursday night, and that 10 managed to escape. It did not immediately give any other details.

Although safety conditions have improved in the last several years, China’s mining industry is by far the world’s deadliest, with accidents and blasts killing more than 2,600 coal miners last year.

More coverage from United Press International, the BBC, and the People’s Daily Online.

Search halted for missing Russian coal miners

Relatives mourn a miner killed in explosions at the Raspadskaya mine in the city of Mezhdurechensk in the west Siberian region of Kemerovo, Thursday, May 13, 2010. Rescue operations to find 24 workers missing in a Siberian coal mine explosion were suspended Thursday because of fears of a new blast. The Russian Emergencies Ministry said Thursday that the death toll from the explosions now stands at 66. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)

Here’s the latest:

MEZHDURECHENSK, Russia (AP) — Rescue operations to find 24 workers missing in a Siberian coal mine explosion were suspended Thursday because of fears of a new blast.

Nonessential workers and miners’ relatives were taken away from aboveground areas around the Raspadskaya mine because of safety concerns. One of the blasts at the mine on Sunday seriously damaged buildings on the surface.

The Russian Emergencies Ministry said Thursday that the death toll from the explosions now stands at 66.

A ministry official, Pavel Plat, told reporters at the mine that the concentration of volatile methane gas in the mine is rising and that several sizable fires are burning some 460 meters (1,500 feet) underground.

Plat said methane concentration at some points in the mine was 7 percent. A concentration of 1 percent is generally considered to be the limit of safe conditions.

“Our task now is to put out the fires and reduce the gas concentration, and only after this is done will we send people” to the area where the missing miners are believed to be, Plat said.

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Relatives and colleagues mourn a rescue miner killed after explosions in the Raspadskaya mine, in the city of Osinniki in the west Siberian region of Kemerovo, Wednesday, May 12, 2010. Rescuers struggling through the blast-shattered corridors of a Siberian coal mine have nearly reached the last area where any of 30 missing miners could still be found alive with the death toll reaching 60.(AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)

The death count has now hit 60 from the two explosions that rocked a coal mine in the Siberian region of Kemerovo in Russia, and time is believed to be running out on any hope of finding the other 30 missing miners.

There are new reports out from Reuters, The Associated Press, and the Xinhua news agency.

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A relative mourn miner Fedor Akintyev, 50, killed after explosions at the Raspadskaya mine in the city of Mezhdurechensk in the west Siberian region of Kemerovo, Tuesday, May 11, 2010. Two explosions tore through the Russia’s largest underground coal mine in western Siberia killing several workers and injuring dozens of others, an emergency services ministry official said Sunday. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)

The death count continues to rise and hope fades for any more survivors of the two explosions that rocked Russia’s largest coal mine earlier this week.

This morning, CNN International and the  Xinhau news agency both report that 52 are confirmed dead so far, with 38 miners still missing deep inside the Raspadskaya coal mine in Russia’s Siberian region.  The Itar-Tass news agency reported:

The general atmosphere at Raspadskaya is “bleak and hopeless”, and local residents keep silent and “don’t expect any good news”.

Emergency workers search the debris of the destroyed ventilation unit at the Raspadskaya mine after it was hit by explosions, in the city of Mezhdurechensk in the west Siberian region of Kemerovo, Tuesday, May 11, 2010.

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China Mine Flood

The hands of a survivor are seen sticking out from the blanket as rescue workers carry him on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance at the Wangjialing Coal Mine in Xiangning county in north China’s Shanxi province, Monday, April 5, 2010. State television says nine workers have been pulled to safety after spending more than a week trapped in a flooded coal mine in China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

There’s incredible news out of China, where more than 100 have been rescued after being trapped underground in a flooded coal mine for more than a week.

The most recent numbers I’ve seen came from The Associated Press dispatch:

Rescuers in tears hugged each other at the scene, which was broadcast live on national television. The sudden surge in rescues was a rare piece of good news for China’s mining industry, the deadliest in the world. A rescue spokesman said 115 survivors had been pulled out as of 4:30 p.m. local time (0830 GMT; 4:30 a.m. EDT).

“A miracle has finally happened,” Liu Dezheng told reporters Monday morning, after the first nine miners were taken out shortly after midnight. “We believe that more miracles will happen.”

Of the 153 initially trapped, there are still 38 miners in the shaft. Rescuers expressed confidence Monday they could be saved but did not say whether there had been any contact with them.

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