Let me preface this post by saying that I don’t know the practical differences between potash mining and mining for coal. More than likely coal mining is more fundamentally dangerous than potash mining, which may explain why all 72 miners trapped for over a day in a Canadian potash mine fire appear to have made it out safely.
[Luc Morrison, 26,] said it was a typical night shift until about 1:30 a.m. Sunday, when the lights went out. At first, he thought it was a power bump, but as the minutes ticked away in the gloom of the mine, it became clear it was something more serious.
“All you had was your headlamp,” he said.
Word quickly spread that there was a fire in the mine.
The buildup sounds familiar, the sort of tragedy that we hear about at regular intervals. This part, however, stood out:
Morrison left in a truck to head to one of the emergency refuge stations, which had enough internal oxygen supplies to last at least 36 hours, as well as water, food, blankets, chairs and beds.
…”We had good oxygen in there. We had oxygen bottles and some supplies there to keep a guy going,” said [Dan] Bulischak, who is from Russell, Man.
“A lot of us – most of us, if not everyone – knew we were fairly safe there because the smoke was going away from us, and everyone pretty much knew that. So the main concern of everyone was just to wait it out in that area, with a group of 30 guys sweating it out.”
…Morrison and his companions were able to speak to their families on radiophones on Sunday night but didn’t reach the surface until about 6 a.m. Monday.
It seems like a no-brainer to point out that the incident at Sago could have ended differently if the thirteen miners had refuge stations, 36 hours of oxygen and radiophones. I don’t know whether potash mining is inherently less dangerous than mining for coal, but if so then it seems doubly ridiculous that our coal miners couldn’t dream of the sort of luxury-in-refuge that the Saskatchewan miners enjoyed. John’s earlier post listed archaic safety technology that you find in America mines today and the mining industry association’s pathetic attitude towards upgrading:
Bruce Watzman, vice president of safety, health and human resources at the National Mining Association, said it was not the responsibility of coal operators to develop new safety equipment. “We’re not in the self-rescuer manufacturing business,” Mr. Watzman said.
It’s obvious that the industry will not upgrade itself. Governmental oversight means nothing when government has industry associations write the rules and then hires industry veterans to implement them. Credit where credit is due, Governor Manchin did more than just appoint a blue-ribbon commission of stuffed suits and campaign donors, but political winds blow fickle and the problem of mine safety encompasses more of America than just West Virginia. If we care about miners, and insisting that we at least meet Canada’s standards for safety seems like a good way to show that we care, then people who detest labor unions may have to learn to detest them a little bit less. Right now there’s nobody else going to bat on the miners’ behalf.