MAC: Mines and Communities

Colombia: Explosion kills 21 Coal Miners

Published by MAC on 2011-01-31
Source: Bloomberg, WSJ

In that same mine 32 workers were killed in 2007

Colombia suffered its worst mining disaster in recent years, as an explosion killed 21 workers in La Preciosa underground coal mine. In that same mine, located near Sardinata (Norte de Santander), 32 miners were killed in another accident back in 2007. See: Coal mine explosion in northeast Colombia kills 32


Colombia Says 20 Miners Presumed Dead After Explosion

By Heather Walsh


26 January 2011

Colombia said 20 miners are presumed dead and six workers injured after a blast and cave-in that follows recent fatalities in the Andean nation's coal industry.

Rescuers have recovered eight bodies at the La Preciosa mine in northeastern Colombia, an official at the state-run Colombian Institute of Geology and Mining, who can't be identified because of government policy, said today in a telephone interview from Bogota.

Accidents at coal mines in the past year have killed and injured workers in Colombia, South America's largest producer of coal. The nation's worst blast since the 1970s killed more than 70 men in June at a mine, where rescuers were hampered by toxic gases and collapsing walls. In October and November, at least 15 men died in separate detonations at coal mines.

Methane gas triggered the blast this morning at La Preciosa, which means precious in Spanish, said Rafael David Reyes, mining secretary for the province of Norte de Santander.

About 30 to 40 men usually work at any one time at the mine in a region near the border of Venezuela that is dotted with coal deposits. The mine is owned by a Colombian company, Reyes said, declining to provide the name of the owner.

Cerrejon, the world's largest open-pit mine of coal for export, said four workers died and 12 were injured in August after an accident at a coal storage unit in northern Colombia. The mine is jointly owned by Xstrata Plc, BHP Billiton Ltd. and Anglo American Plc.

Colombia is the world's fourth-largest coal exporter and the world's 11th-largest coal producer, supplying about 1.2 percent of global 2008 output, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Colombia Searches for Answers in Mine Blast

By Dan Molinski


28 January 2011

BOGOTA—The bodies of all 21 miners killed in an explosion Wednesday at an underground coal mine in Colombia were recovered, while an investigation into the blast continues and the government acknowledged it has only 16 workers to do safety checks on 6,000 mines.

President Juan Manuel Santos, who cut short a weeklong trip to Europe after the mine disaster, was due to arrive later Friday at the town of Sardinata, where most of the victims lived. Funerals are scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

"Our hearts are with the families of the victims," Mr. Santos said in a statement from Paris before boarding a plane to Sardinata, located in northeastern Colombia in the state of Norte de Santander, which borders Venezuela.

The disaster at the La Preciosa mine, the same mine where 32 miners were killed in a 2007 blast, was the latest in a string of mining accidents in Colombia and has led to calls for more government regulation. About 100 people were killed in mining accidents last year, most coming from a huge blast at a coal mine in June that took the lives of 70 miners.

On Thursday Mr. Santos called the high number of mining-related deaths "totally unacceptable" and promised a full review of safety procedures and government regulations.

Coal mining is a major employer in Colombia. The country is expected to produce nearly 100 million metric tons of coal this year, making it one of the world's largest exporters.

Coal production destined for abroad is controlled by foreign companies including Alabama-based Drummond Co., Glencore International AG, BHP Billiton Ltd. and Xstrata PLC, which operate in open-pit coal mines and have strong safety records. Small locally owned mining companies, meanwhile, continue to produce coal destined for the local market in underground mines, many of which have spotty records for safety.

Mines and Energy Minister Carlos Rodado acknowledged more regulation of the underground mines is needed.

"We only have 16 people to watch over 3,000 operating mines and another 3,000 that are under exploration," Mr. Rodado told reporters. "The country needs to strengthen its human resources."

Wednesday's explosion happened just as miners were changing shifts and was likely caused by a buildup of methane gas that investigators say might have been ignited by the lighting of a cigarette or perhaps a spark created by equipment the miners were using.

In addition to the 21 miners killed, six others inside the mine were severely injured.

Colombian Red Cross rescue worker Miguel Angel Chavez said he and other workers had to dig 1,200 meters into the mine Thursday afternoon to retrieve the final four bodies, which he said were covered in burns from the fiery blast.

"It wasn't easy getting to the final bodies, as we were concerned about another explosion and also had to deal with minor landslides within the mine that blocked our path," Mr. Chavez said in a telephone interview.

Investigators have closed the mine while they look into the precise causes.

The owner of the La Preciosa mine, Gabriel Tamayo, wasn't available for comment, but local news media in Sardinata said TMr. amayo claims ventilation equipment to ensure methane levels don't get too high were working "perfectly" on the day of the blast.

Luis Suarez, a coal miner who worked at the La Preciosa mine but wasn't on duty at the time of the blast, told El Tiempo newspaper that a check of methane levels Tuesday revealed levels five times above acceptable amounts. He said, however, that procedures to increase airflow were immediately taken, which brought the methane levels under control.

The mayor of the town of Sardinata, Yamile Rangel, said in an interview Friday that despite the two deadly explosions at the La Preciosa mine in the past five years, she wants to wait for the investigation to be completed before she makes any judgments on the mine's future.

"Mr. Tamayo ensured me the mine met all regulation standards and said he was using the best technical procedures available," the mayor said.

She added that Mr. Tamayo didn't own the mine in 2007 when the earlier disaster occurred.

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