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Pike River Mine Disaster
November 23, 2010 11:26 PM   Subscribe

New Zealand Police announced this afternoon that they believe that all 29 miners missing at Pike River are now presumed dead. After several days of raised and dashed hopes, a second explosion at the coal mine has devasted hopes that the miners could possibly be alive.
posted by chairish (88 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by mataboy at 11:32 PM on November 23, 2010


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posted by philip-random at 11:38 PM on November 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


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posted by quadog at 11:39 PM on November 23, 2010


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posted by IvoShandor at 11:42 PM on November 23, 2010


Meanwhile, the news media act like complete twats.

Also, .
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:47 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oops, that first link was meant to be here.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:48 PM on November 23, 2010


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posted by lapolla at 11:51 PM on November 23, 2010


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Fucking hell, why do we still send men into the earth for mining?
posted by kalimac at 11:52 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


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Fucking hell, why do we still send men into the earth for mining?

An unquenchable thirst for energy to be obtained by any means.
posted by gomichild at 11:56 PM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Fucking hell, why do we still send men into the earth for mining?

Pretty much everything that makes civilization/culture possible comes from the ground one way or other. It's not just FUEL. It's EVERYTHING, including the various materials that made that laptop (that phone, that DEVICE) possible, which you are now using to access the internet.

And yeah, mining has made the internet possible, too.
posted by philip-random at 12:01 AM on November 24, 2010 [19 favorites]


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posted by spinifex23 at 12:03 AM on November 24, 2010


Meanwhile, the news media act like complete twats.

It mystifies me how some Australian journalists confuse asking the "hard questions" and bloody egregious and ill-informed tactlessness.
posted by mataboy at 12:04 AM on November 24, 2010


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posted by clavdivs at 12:05 AM on November 24, 2010


Pretty much everything that makes civilization/culture possible comes from the ground one way or other. It's not just FUEL. It's EVERYTHING, including the various materials that made that laptop (that phone, that DEVICE) possible, which you are now using to access the internet.

Yeah but a lot of mining is done from quarries and open pits. Strip mining, etc.
posted by delmoi at 12:21 AM on November 24, 2010


I think the NZ government officials are being a touch oversensitive about these journalists. Doing things like trying to infiltrate support groups isn't good, but just asking questions? Politicians aren't supposed to like the questions they get. Imagine how many health problems could have been avoided if journalists were willing to question Air Quality assessments after 9/11 or something.

They need to get over themselves. Just because they don't like people questioning what they're doing, doesn't mean it shouldn't happen.
posted by delmoi at 12:24 AM on November 24, 2010


Yeah but a lot of mining is done from quarries and open pits. Strip mining, etc.
posted by delmoi 12 minutes ago [+]


different ore bodies, different methods of extraction. sadly, on some level or other, these 29 people are dead because it was financially viable to do things the way they were doing them.

maybe tomorrow, it won't be.
posted by philip-random at 12:38 AM on November 24, 2010


E kaikini nei ahau i te hinapouri.
posted by Duke999R at 12:40 AM on November 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Fucking hell, why do we still send men into the earth for mining?

Well, let's see. New Zealand is the last home of a range of unique species, some of whom are the last survivors of branches that died out 40 - 250 million years ago everywhere else in the world. Birds, lizards, sphenodons, trees, and whatnot. We could, I guess, go the Appalachian route of open-cast mining the natural parks that mines like this one are in. There might be fewer fatialities. But then, of course, we'd be one step closer to the complete elimination of unique chunks of our biosphere.

So, we can ask men to risk their lives in shaft mines.

Or we can try doing without coal. That means no industrial production of steel, which requires vast quantities of coal. Forget cars, railways, high-rise buildings, the transmission towers for high-tension cables that bring power to your home, the turbines in many of the power plants that generate that power in the first place, aeroplanes, buses... if you want to live without coal, you want to live in the 17th century, technology-wise.

If you want to do without shaft mines, you need to be prepared to destroy old-growth forests, eliminated the final habitats of already-desperate species, level mountains to rubble to get it. A flat, deserted wasteland.

Those are your choices.

I have huge respect for miners. Like many other often not particularly well-paid or highly respected jobs - maintaining water mains, sewers, and the like - they are the real backbone of pretty much everything we consider the basics of civilisation. Going underground would cause me to lose my shit in claustrophobic terror in no time flat. The loss of life is a tragedy, and I have to confess to the same specks of blood on my hands that anyone not living an Amish-style existence posseses.

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posted by rodgerd at 12:42 AM on November 24, 2010 [59 favorites]


but just asking questions?

"Asking questions" that suggest everyone involved is a coward unless they charge down a gas-filled mine with no regard for anyone's safety? Chasing up the estranged ex-husband of the mother of one of the dead miners so he could have some air time to all but call his ex-wife a murderer? Ask question that betray a complete ignorance of anything to do with the efforts at hand? Ask questions that were clearly driven by nothing more than attempting to drive up ratings?
posted by rodgerd at 12:45 AM on November 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


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posted by Ahab at 12:45 AM on November 24, 2010


all apologies if my recent comments sound overly callous. I come from a family of "mining people". The points I've tossed out are the kinds of things I'd had pounded into me by the time I was 15.

Basically: Yes, mining is dangerous and perhaps bad for the environment, but I don't see you complaining about all the wonderful things it has made possible (those toys you're playing with, the TV you love, your record collection, a nice warm house).

the price of paradise
posted by philip-random at 12:46 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by smoke at 12:51 AM on November 24, 2010


all apologies if my recent comments sound overly callous

Not at all. People could use a dose of reality - everyone's prepared to bemoan the human or environmental cost of mining when it's shoved in our faces, but it doesn't seem to lead to us being prepared to pay the price of doing it differently. It's no different to complaining about the plight of Foxconn workers from the smartphones they build, all the while marvelling at how cheap computing power has become.
posted by rodgerd at 12:53 AM on November 24, 2010


For coal is black an coal is reid
An coal is rich ayont a treasure
It's black wi wark an reid wi bluid
It's richness nou in lives we measure

Faur better that we'd never wrocht
A thousan years o wark an grievin
For the coal is black like the mournin shroud
The women left behind are weavin


Auchengeich Disaster
posted by Abiezer at 12:53 AM on November 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


I guess after the Chilean and Beaconsfield rescues I'd kinda gotten lax in my thinking. I really did believe it would all turn out all right. As though, with modern technology, the robots, the better communications and all that, that it was just a matter of keeping spirits up while they were dug out. I'm shocked but it really is a dangerous profession that, as said above, provides us with so much we consider vital to modern society.

RIP.
posted by Raunchy 60s Humour at 12:53 AM on November 24, 2010


One CEO of an energy company at a time of crisis shows true leadership: Peter Whittall. Compare to another CEO of an energy company at a time of crisis.

The PM said tonight we are in a nation in mourning. Flags will fly at half-mast tomorrow, and Parliament will be suspended as a mark of respect.

The New Zealand Herald has a page with the names and photos of the 29 miners.

Aroha to the families and friends who have lost loved ones.
posted by vac2003 at 12:54 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by pompomtom at 12:55 AM on November 24, 2010


Explosion risk was precisely why they didn't rush in there, and those fears were borne out. I was getting impatient at what I was hearing on the radio too, and I can only imagine how furious those families were, but losing 29 is better than losing 29 + would-be rescuers.
posted by Malor at 12:56 AM on November 24, 2010


They need to get over themselves. Just because they don't like people questioning what they're doing, doesn't mean it shouldn't happen.

After reading the linked articles, I'm with rogerd. The Australian journalists were asking dumb-arse questions. The first one, questioning who should be in charge of the rescue (in what reads to be a very condescending, arrogant way), could have been answered by research, not by attacking the guy in charge of the rescue. The question that basically accused the entire New Zealand populace of cowardice because they didn't all run in there "like New Yorkers on 9/11" barely deserves a fucking response, given the tragic second explosion.

I would like to apologise for the Australian media. I try to avoid paying attention to them as much as possible.

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posted by Jimbob at 12:56 AM on November 24, 2010


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posted by malibustacey9999 at 1:07 AM on November 24, 2010


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posted by Coaticass at 1:10 AM on November 24, 2010


They were mining coal, which is easily and often extracted in open pit mines.

They were mining what they were, where they were, how they were, because the world today made it seem financially rewarding to do so. Not because it was necessary to do so. It was high grade coal, but hardly something that keeps us from going back to the 17th century.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:14 AM on November 24, 2010


I guess, go the Appalachian route of open-cast mining the natural parks that mines like this one are in. There might be fewer fatialities. But then, of course, we'd be one step closer to the complete elimination of unique chunks of our biosphere.

Related: On Independent Lens the documentary "Deep Down" aired last night on WTTW (Chicago PBS affiliate). It was quite good. Sadly, the video isn't available on their site.
posted by IvoShandor at 1:14 AM on November 24, 2010


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I work at a mine in New Zealand, and I'm in the mines rescue team. We were on standby if they needed the support, but it looks like that's unlikely now.

I don't have much else to say, other than that these incidents are an inevitability in a world where we have cheap power and cheap metal. There are a lot of safety standards in place these days, but the trouble down there is that it only takes one small error for things to go catastrophic very quickly. Just something to keep in mind next time you're using something made of metal, or using power derived by coal or gas or uranium (which you do quite a bit, eh?). All of our civilisation is built upon the products of people heading into the darkness to bring up a few dirty rocks.

Here's ol' mate Orwell on the matter:

In a way it is even humiliating to watch coal-miners working. It raises in you a momentary doubt about your own status as an 'intellectual' and a superior person generally. For it is brought home to you, at least while you are watching, that it is only because miners sweat their guts out that superior persons can remain superior. You and I and the editor of the Times Lit. Supp., and the poets and the Archbishop of Canterbury and Comrade X, author of Marxism for Infants--all of us really owe the comparative decency of our lives to poor drudges underground, blackened to the eyes, with their throats full of coal dust, driving their shovels forward with arms and belly muscles of steel.

posted by twirlypen at 1:17 AM on November 24, 2010 [62 favorites]


philip-random: "............................"

Agreed and seconded: "............................"
posted by bwg at 1:21 AM on November 24, 2010


philip-random: Not at all, you make a very good point (as does rogerd, etc.). I think I wrote too hastily, and my point got across wrong. I know the alternative is just as bad, if not worse, in a whole range of ways (as in: open-cast or strip-mine, do without steel, etc.) I think it was just a general...howl of sadness? I spent a lot of time this summer working with ex-miners and with coal-mining equipment in a museum-person capacity, so my POV is...odd. Has the luxury of being a little romanticized, and a little not, I suppose? Either, way, mea culpa, I will make my first metafilter comments after I have a coffee and not before.
posted by kalimac at 1:24 AM on November 24, 2010


They were mining coal, which is easily and often extracted in open pit mines.

They were mining what they were, where they were, how they were, because the world today made it seem financially rewarding to do so. Not because it was necessary to do so. It was high grade coal, but hardly something that keeps us from going back to the 17th century.


They're mining in shafts under a National Park because we've decided not to wipe out what little's left of the ancient species of New Zealand by flattening our national parks. But you knew that, because you read enough of my post to respond to it, so I'm not sure why you chose to ignore the bits that didn't fit into your response.

So yes, you can have open cast mines, if you place zero value on living in a world which is nothing but barren wastes wherever we happen to find minerals.
posted by rodgerd at 1:25 AM on November 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Can we please just think about the 29 men who are now confirmed dead? At the moment, I don't give a sideways fuck about national parks or endangered species or open-cut mines.

My heart is breaking for the families who held out for hope, and the workers who wanted to go in there to get their mates out but weren't allowed, due to the toxic gas levels.

May they all find peace. Especially the parents of the 17 year old who was there on his first day at work.

E kaikini nei ahau i te hinapouri.
posted by Duke999R at 6:40 PM on November 24

Can we please have a translation, Duke?
posted by malibustacey9999 at 1:33 AM on November 24, 2010


Going underground would cause me to lose my shit in claustrophobic terror in no time flat.

My father comes from the West Coast (reasonably near the mine site) although he was never a miner. Once he took us a few hundred metres down a mine. As soon as I got out of site of the mine opening, I was in a state of real terror, I can tell you. I have massive respect for anyone who can do that.

RIP.
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:43 AM on November 24, 2010


as others have noted the chilean and beaconsfield rescuer had me just assuming these guys would be okay. It's heartbreaking and seeing photos of the miners' families on news websites over the last couple of days feels ridiculously intrusive.
posted by prettypretty at 1:45 AM on November 24, 2010


Nga mate, nga aitua o koutou ara o matou,
Ka tangihia e tatou i tenei,
Haere, haere, haere.

The dead and the suffering, we weep for you, farewell, farewell, farewell.

This comment is completely tangential to rodgerd's discussion above.

I think most New Zealanders (certainly in the South Island, anyway) have some ties to coal mining and/or the West Coast - a remote, damp, bush clad place dotted with small towns. My grandfather's family came from a coal mining town down south and my grandmother's family has ties to the Coast through an absconding bigamist (not unusual back in the day). Besides all that, this really is a national disaster and strongly emotional, I suspect, for all New Zealanders.

I have talked to a lot of people on the last few hours and we all have a common feeling of lost hope. Everyone has been glued to the news, hoping, praying and watching for a successful outcome. People on the mainstream pop/rock radio stations had been calling in with passionate opinions on rescue efforts, or the perceived lack thereof. I was fuming during my morning commute because one caller demanded that someone be a "hero" and charge in there. We all want to play the armchair experts and the media arms viewers with just enough information to think they can indeed know what's going on.

I am looking forward to and dreading the investigation into the disaster because the blame game will go on for a long time, and I can only imagine bereaved families' anger directed at the wrong scapegoat.
posted by tracicle at 1:51 AM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


E kaikini nei ahau i te hinapouri.

I am suffering sadness.
posted by tracicle at 1:55 AM on November 24, 2010


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posted by New England Cultist at 2:05 AM on November 24, 2010


Can we please have a translation, Duke?
posted by malibustacey9999 at 8:33 PM

"I am suffering sadness". It's Māori.

Coal mining goes back three generations in my family. This is just down the street from where I grew up.
I first went underground at 13 years of age, work experience as a mines surveyor.
I know the enthusiasm that young Joseph Dunbar felt on his first day. I've wept for both him and his family today.
I feel like shit, yet I know it cannot compare to the grief those families and friends are feeling right now, and for a long time to come.
posted by Duke999R at 2:09 AM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I too was lulled by the success of the Beaconsfield and Chilean rescues. I assumed it was just a matter of time before these men were brought home. My condolences to their families, friends and workmates.

(And apologies for the dregs of the Australian media. Do they seriously think this is what people want to read or see on the news?)
posted by harriet vane at 2:13 AM on November 24, 2010


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*gives NZ a hug*
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:19 AM on November 24, 2010


Do they seriously think this is what people want to read or see on the news?

hm, i think at least a dozen times in the past couple of days i've sneered "geez, those media vultures just love a mine disaster, don't they?" - pathetic but true, and they do it because they know the public laps it up. hopefully at least the abc & sbs weren't involved. please?
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:23 AM on November 24, 2010


Thanks for the translation, Duke999R and tracicle.

All I can say is my heart broke when yours broke today, hearing news of the second blast.

If it's not culturally inappropriate for me to say so, may I repeat what I've learned: E kaikini nei ahau i te hinapouri.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 2:54 AM on November 24, 2010


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posted by Wolof at 3:29 AM on November 24, 2010


...sadly, on some level or other, these 29 people are dead because it was financially viable to do things the way they were doing them.

Agreed. Everytime you see a miner, a construction worker, or basically any kind of labourer, you can be assured that some of their colleagues died (or were injured) while on duty. Society assumes (correctly or not) that progress is worth risking the lives of those who have to earn money by engaging in that labour.

Its only during times of tragedies like these that we rethink things like "do I really need to keep my AC on? I mean I'm getting a good deal and its hot, but everytime I use energy...I send someone down in the mine, out to the rig, or out on the street to make sure that the temperature in my house is just perfect for eat my chicken noodle soup without sweating".

Support your local labour union in enacting and preserving safety standards.

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posted by hal_c_on at 3:37 AM on November 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Oh, jeez. I really hoped this would not happen. I hope the end came quickly for those poor men. I grew up about ten miles from Monongah and about 30 miles from Buckhannon, West Virginia. The impact on small communities from disasters such as these really will last for decades. The children of these miners will probably end up working in very similar mines, if there are no alternative industries in the area, and all the while they won't be able to forget what happened to their fathers, uncles, brothers. Rest in peace, guys.
posted by frodisaur at 3:50 AM on November 24, 2010


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posted by JoeXIII007 at 4:55 AM on November 24, 2010


Fucking hell, why do we still send men into the earth for mining?
posted by kalimac at 7:52 AM on November 24


Because we still want our laptops, DVD players and big screen TVs.


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posted by Decani at 4:58 AM on November 24, 2010


malibustacey9999: Can we please just think about the 29 men who are now confirmed dead? At the moment, I don't give a sideways fuck about national parks or endangered species or open-cut mines.

I appreciate that you are upset, and the loss of the 29 men is clearly a tragedy, but some people are interested in thinking about the wider factors that lead to such accidents happening. rodgerd's comments explaining why the mining was being done in that way were very illuminating to me. And the wider discussion of the personal dangers people endure to keep our technology working is also pertinent.

According to this report, "work kills more people than wars – some 6,000 a day". Apparently that figure includes work-related illnesses, but even if you only look at accidents that happen at work the figure is 350,000 a year - nearly 1000 per day. There's a lot to think about there, and thinking about things is important.
posted by memebake at 5:08 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Because we still want our laptops, DVD players and big screen TVs.

Because reading about men dead, communities devastated, or rivers polluted is still easier than seeing windmills on the horizon or getting over the gut-instinct fear of the word "nuclear."

No, neither of these energy sources eliminates the need for coal, but a reduction is still preferable, and they don't cost us people or impact the environment nearly so much.
posted by explosion at 5:23 AM on November 24, 2010




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posted by pointystick at 5:58 AM on November 24, 2010


explosion: yeah, it just seems silly to be using coal for power, of all things. There are things you need coal for, on a chemical basis, but just digging it up to burn it seems horribly wasteful.

Uranium mining isn't pretty either, but it takes one hell of a lot less digging.
posted by Malor at 6:00 AM on November 24, 2010


Such a sad counterpoint to the Chile rescue.

gomichild summed it up nicely--an "unquenchable thirst". Our overpopulated world is burning through resources at an ever-accelerating rate. Sadly, one of those resources is PEOPLE, the ultimate expendable.

This is not the last time miners will go into the earth and not return. My father spent some time in coal mines, most notably in Centralia, PA where he was asked to consult on the underground fire during its earliest stages. After such trips, he would remark with a shudder, "the men that mine are not like you and me. Every time they go to work, they know they might not return. We need them, yet to most they are invisible, another part of the machine."
posted by kinnakeet at 6:07 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


May they rest in peace. May their families find whatever comfort and peace they need.
posted by Daddy-O at 6:16 AM on November 24, 2010


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posted by sonika at 6:34 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


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> It's heartbreaking and seeing photos of the miners' families on news websites over the last couple of days feels ridiculously intrusive.

I get angry whenever news organizations run photos/footage of grieving families after a tragedy. Unless you are a public figure - and arguably not even then - the fact that you are sad after suffering a death in the family is not "news" in the sense that the public interest is served by learning more about it.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:44 AM on November 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Fucking hell, why do we still send men into the earth for mining?

Or, stated another way, why don't we send robots into the earth for mining instead? They don't even have to be intelligent. We could pay the miners to operate them remotely.

If the answer is 'expendable people are cheaper than robots,' then we need to use taxes, regulation, and subsidies to change the underlying economics so that robots are cheaper. We've sacrificed more than enough lives on the altar of cheap fossil fuels already.
posted by jedicus at 6:52 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fucking hell, why do we still send men into the earth for mining?
posted by kalimac at 7:52 AM on November 24

Because we still want our laptops, DVD players and big screen TVs.


To be fair, nobody sent anybody into the mine - New Zealand doesn't have any gulags that I know of. It's a lucrative job to be in, especially for blue collar work, precisely because of the danger money involved, so the laptops, DVD players and big screen TVs you're talking about might just as easily be the miners' own.

For other dangerous occupations like the police, fire brigades or the military, at least we can console ourselves that they died in the line of duty, as heroes. That language doesn't lend itself so easily when people get killed underground: "Heroes of the capitalist system" doesn't have the same ring to it.


(woken at 2am by baby so apologies for the shitty mood)
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:02 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:20 AM on November 24, 2010


Bonehead and I were in Greymouth just around this time last year. It's so sad to hear of a tragedy happening there. Our thoughts are with the miners and their families.
posted by LN at 9:06 AM on November 24, 2010


Unless you are a public figure - and arguably not even then - the fact that you are sad after suffering a death in the family is not "news" in the sense that the public interest is served by learning more about it.

Yes, I have really come to despise this particularly toxic form of "public interest", which over time time seems to be getting worse and worse. Even when a family chooses to talk to the media, it's a loaded situation. Are they in shock? Are they thinking straight? Does Uncle Bob think he can make a few bucks off of it?

The worst part is that nowadays it seems like we feel the families owe us an intimate insight into their grief. It's not as case of, will they talk to the media?, but when? And just to make it easy for them, we'll park our camera crew down the block.
posted by philip-random at 9:36 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by dealing away at 10:36 AM on November 24, 2010


tunneler here. my thoughts go out to the families and the guys' co-workers. this shit is so horrible.

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posted by beefetish at 10:42 AM on November 24, 2010


Or, stated another way, why don't we send robots into the earth for mining instead? They don't even have to be intelligent. We could pay the miners to operate them remotely.

Well, they're not operated remotely, but compared to 100 years ago mining is much less manpower intensive. All the miners operate heavy machinery.
posted by atrazine at 12:04 PM on November 24, 2010






Top Ten Hard Coal Producers 2009:
1. PR China ... 2971 Mt (Million tons)
2. USA ... 919 Mt
3. India ... 526 Mt
4. Australia ... 335 Mt
5. Indonesia ... 263 Mt
6. South Africa ... 247 Mt
7. Russia ... 229 Mt
8. Kazakhstan ... 96 Mt
9. Poland ... 78 Mt
10. Colombia ... 73 Mt
World Global Hard Coal Consumption
1990 ... 3471 Mt
2008 ... 5661 Mt
2009 ... 5924Mt
More statistics from the World Coal Association, which claims that "The use of coal will rise 53% over the next 20 years."
posted by cenoxo at 2:24 PM on November 24, 2010


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:(
posted by perilous at 3:15 PM on November 24, 2010


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Why, when we can put men on the moon, run a classroom from the opposite side of the planet, and replace a dying human heart, are mines still such dangerous places to work? Why are occupational illness and death still so commonplace?

Bittersweet that yesterday brought the acquittal of Ark Tribe on charges of "illegally" organizing safety meetings at the construction site where he worked.
posted by gingerest at 3:37 PM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


yeah, it just seems silly to be using coal for power

Just a data point here - the coal from the Pike River mine is some of the highest quality hard anthracite in the world. All of the mines output was exported for steelmaking.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 4:27 PM on November 24, 2010


Why, when we can put men on the moon, run a classroom from the opposite side of the planet, and replace a dying human heart, are mines still such dangerous places to work? Why are occupational illness and death still so commonplace?

I can't speak about the specifics of coal mining, but much of the work in an underground mine requires either very fiddly, specific work, or it requires a person to have greater visibility than a video link. Of course, this is partly because the economics of a mine demand that you bring up ore at a certain rate - a mine running half as fast would no doubt be safer.

In terms of specific jobs and automation or robotics, it's an interesting question. Here are a few of the most common underground jobs:

Bogger (loader) operator: much of this job is already automated, so operators can take a bogger into an unstable stope and bring out the ore to a safe stockpile without ever being in danger themselves. These boggers can have laser guidance systems that mean you cannot drive them into a wall or another machine. That being said, they're also used to work in 'safe' areas, where other people are sometimes working, where it's impractical (read: uneconomical) to set up the automated system. This is a huge cause of injuries - someone at my company's other mine site died last year when he was crushed by a bogger. As far as I'm aware, the technology doesn't exist to run them remotely here.

Jumbo (dual drill): these guys drill the holes that will be filled with explosives and put up the mesh that holds loose rock in places. This requires exquisitely accurate operation (and is the highest paying job in the mine) and much of the production depends on them doing their job quickly and properly. An automated jumbo is conceivable, but I haven't heard of the technology yet.

Service crew: drive all over the mine putting up air vents and water pipes, repairing wires and pipes, generally keeping it all running. Even the common jobs - repairing a vent bag, for example - are new in a whole variety of ways each time it happens, something that would make automation incredibly difficult. It's easy enough for a guy with a knife to cut one bit away and clip on a new piece, but some kind of robot would have to be incredibly sophisticated to do the same thing, as far as I can imagine.

Geologist: this is my job, and much of it involves inspecting a rock face in close detail. It's conceivable that a series of high definition cameras with a variety of lighting options could allow us to do the job remotely (as well as some kind of robot to paint lines on the walls and take very precise samples), but it would be hugely difficult compared to simply sending me down in a truck/ute.

Truck driver: does what it says on the tin. I think this would be the easiest to automate - I know of open pits that are already looking into this. The technology exists to run a big vehicle underground (and these are big - think of something the size of your living room driving down a tunnel with less than a metre clearance on all sides), and I can imagine there'd be a way to direct them to various loading points throughout the mine. Once again though, technology that sophisticated is far more expensive than getting some 22 year old woman to jump into the seat.

Engineer/geotech: similar to the geos, these folks need to inspect things close up to see how it's all running.

Charge-up: these guys are the ones that play with explosives, and much of the job depends upon being able to 'read' the condition of a hole and the amount of explosive within it by the feel of the pipe in your hands as it pumps the anfo into the hole. It's pretty critical to get this right, and I've never heard of any kind of automated equivalent.

Basically, many of the jobs need you to be able to see, or feel, or hear, or control things in acute detail. Some of these areas can be automated, some already are, but it's hard to imagine a mine without people (and therefore without danger) for some time. Keep in mind that this is in a state-of-the-art modern gold mine with a company that has a very good safety record. Head to dodgier operations, or to developing countries, and the risks stack up quite quickly.
posted by twirlypen at 5:06 PM on November 24, 2010 [9 favorites]


Oh, gosh, I really didn't mean "Why isn't mining automated?" but I can see how what I wrote could quite readily be interpreted that way. No, no.

I meant that we live in this world with nanotechnology and flying cars, but even personal protective equipment isn't advanced to the point it's comfortable and universally used, much less whatever operational and organizational standards need to be in place to prevent mass casualty incidents at work and widespread occupational illness.

But I found your comment very enlightening and thorough, twirlypen.
posted by gingerest at 6:44 PM on November 24, 2010


Bittersweet that yesterday brought the acquittal of Ark Tribe on charges of "illegally" organizing safety meetings at the construction site where he worked.

Some of my mates are riggers, and they're ecstatic about Ark's acquittal. There are a lot of people in a lot of jobs who put their lives on the line, every day. The least they can ask is for things to be made as safe as humanly possible for them.
posted by Jimbob at 7:28 PM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


.

This is a tragedy - but so are the thousands of deaths in China's coal mining industry each year. Thousands. Just from mine accidents. Not counting the thousands more who die of mining-related illnesses, such as silicosis. Or the thousands of workers who die in Africa's mines each year. South Africa's gold mining industry death rate, for instance, is truly grim.

So talk about mining being dangerous is true on one level yet also deceptive, because Australia's mining industry shows how a mining safety culture can be implemented effectively across a wide industry. Mining does not have to be so dangerous. It will always have an element of risk but it doesn't have to be a mass cause of death.

Australia's mining sector is much, much safer than construction or agriculture in this country and while it has a higher death rate than the average (about 5 deaths per 100,000 employees vs 2.4 deaths per 100,000 employees across all industries in Australia), it also has a very very high rate of vehicular use.

In fact, 31% of all mining deaths in Australia in the past decade related to vehicle accidents. The next biggest cause of death was falling rocks and other objects (ie, heavy tools) and then finally, only 10% of all fatalities were caused by dramatic mine accidents such as cave-ins.

The mining deaths I have reported on - I am a journalist and I write about Australia's mining industry - have typically involved accidents in light vehicles on isolated roads and other accidents with vehicles in general. A few years ago, we had three deaths when a mining camp was lashed by a cycle.

And from what I've seen, open cut mines can be just as dangerous as underground mines.

Yes, having a death rate double that of the national average is not good enough, but it's certainly nowhere near as dangerous as some people seem to think, and at least one reason for this in Australia is the rigorous safety protocols in place.

Most mines have safety or toolbox meetings every. Single. Day. Safety inductions are done on every single mine in Australia when people come or go. Workers are drug and alcohol tested on a daily basis. Most mines are plastered with warning signs about potential risks, hazards and the ways to avoid those risks. Personal protective equipment from hardhats to rebreathers is mandatory.

More and more mines are also introducing "refuge chambers" which provide air,water and a solid structure for miners to shelter in should there be an accident underground.

So, from 2000 until 2008, the number of deaths in Australia's mining industry varied between 17 and 5, with the trend generally moving downwards despite this country's mining boom.

The other huge reason why mining is becoming safer, which many people have raised in this thread, is automation.

Mines, at least in first world countries where labour is becoming hugely expensive, are becoming increasingly automated. I've been to mines where drilling, blasting, mucking and tramming are all done either by automated systems or by remote workers who can sit either in a crib in the mine, or on the surface, or thousands of miles away.

Underground coal mines are increasingly automated too - longwall operations, for instance, are nothing like the mining operations many people imagine (dirty miners with pickaxes slowly dying of the black lung - well, they are usually pretty grubby).

And yes, Australia's coal mining industry is a polluting sector that is slowly cooking our planet, but worker safety is paramount in the coal mines I know of. It's sheer economics. With the skills shortage we have in Australia, unsafe coal mines simply won't attract workers.

Anyway, mining technology is becoming increasing sophisticated and more widely used and it is slowly but surely changing the face of the industry and it is a good thing. The more robots, automated and remote control systems we can get down mines the better.

Of course, as twirlypen writes, some jobs just need to be done by people down the mines, which means adequate regulation and safety procedures for companies and for workers. And it means compliance to those rules as well, which is a huge issue - getting everyone to do the right thing is difficult, expensive, and time consuming.

One of the things that may come out of the Pike River deaths is an investigation in New Zealand's safety regulations. I've already heard Australian mining industry workers say that NZ, because it has a much smaller industry, just doesn't have the regulation in place needed to prevent such accidents.

I don't know how true that is, or whether this is just "one of those things" but I'm hoping this will become clear in time.
posted by jasperella at 7:35 PM on November 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've already heard Australian mining industry workers say that NZ, because it has a much smaller industry, just doesn't have the regulation in place needed to prevent such accidents.

Very good points. I'm from Australia and moved to NZ, and that mirrors my experience perfectly. Some places voluntarily hold themselves to Australian standards, but it's by no means required. I'm not sure if that contributed to the Pike River explosion though.

Thanks for bringing up the fatalities in China and South Africa and elsewhere as well. It's easy to forget that a rare tragedy here is relatively common elsewhere.
posted by twirlypen at 8:05 PM on November 24, 2010


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posted by fido~depravo at 1:06 AM on November 25, 2010


E kaikini nei ahau, tatou katoa hoki, i te hinapouri.

We are gnawed with a profound sadness.
posted by hootenatty at 5:56 PM on November 25, 2010


A third explosion in the mine this afternoon.
posted by tracicle at 8:39 PM on November 25, 2010


U2 dedicated "One Tree Hill" to the Pike River miners at their concert in Auckland. Audience shot video here.

("One Tree Hill" was originally written for a close friend of the band from New Zealand who died in 1986.)
posted by kmz at 9:46 PM on November 25, 2010


last U2 song I ever truly loved.
posted by philip-random at 11:57 PM on November 25, 2010




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posted by liza at 10:13 AM on November 26, 2010


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