Monday, January 30, 2006

Mining is dangerous. In recent weeks we have seen two deadly mining accidents in West Virginia. As long as people use stuff that comes from under the ground, there will be mining, and although we should push as hard as we can for safety, there will always be some risks involved.

That said, yesterday there was a mining accident at a Potash mine in Saskatchewan. Now, read the article:

ESTERHAZY, Saskatchewan - Fire broke out Sunday in a mine in central Canada, forcing some 70 miners trapped underground to retreat to emergency refuge rooms stocked with oxygen and supplies, a mine official said.

Late Sunday, a rescue team reached one of the rooms, made sure everyone was safe, then closed them back inside until the air inside the mine could be cleared of toxic gases, said Marshall Hamilton, a spokesman for Mosaic Company, the Minneapolis-based firm that operates the potash mine.

“In those refuge stations, they can seal themselves off and there’s oxygen, food and water,” Hamilton told CBC Radio. “And they can stay in there for at least 36 hours.”

A refuge station inside a mine which can be made airtight and is stocked with 36 hours worth of oxygen, food and water. Imagine that. Now, it is true that only some of the miners have been contacted, although it is hoped that the rest are safe in other, similar refuge stations (apparently they have several in the mine.)

But that's in Canada. Our mining companies are free to ignore even the numerous citations they receive, as I blogged on January 9 after the Sago mine tragedy, and then again on January 21 after the Alma #1 mine tragedy. Absent a union to take them to court (which neither the Sago nor the Alma mine had) and make them effect some changes, American mine operators collect citations for violations from Federal mine inspectors literally by the score (the Alma #1 mine received 90 citations from Federal inspectors just in 2005 for example), and can ignore them like so much confetti since our GOP led Congress, in their infinite wisdom, decided to de-fang the inspectors. They can write citations all they want, but it takes an impossibly long and tiresome process for them to be able to actually do something.

I bet if someone even suggests creating refuge stations in American mines, the operators will scream something about socialism and insist that Congress pass a law letting them ignore their employees some more. But I don't call it socialism or the government butting into business, I call it a good idea. And I'd venture that right now a lot of people in both West Virginia and Saskatchewan agree with that.

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