Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Happy Ending To Australian Mine Collapse

But Questions Remain: Was Collapse an Act of God or Act of Man?

Two Australian gold miners, Todd Russell and Brant Webb, were rescued from a mine shaft in Tasmania, yesterday after 13 days trapped 3,000 feet underground. The collapse was caused by an earthquake on April 25. 14 miners managed to escape but one miner, Larry Knight, was killed in the rock fall.

Russell and Webb were in a 4-foot tall safety cage that was sheltered by a fallen slab of rock that formed a roof over the cage. They lived off a single cereal bar and water they licked from rocks for five days until rescuers located them and bored a hole through which food and other supplies were provided.

News reports blame the initial collapse on an earthquake. One of those mother nature, Act-of-God things, right? But of course, nothing is as simple as it first seems.
Several miners from the Beaconsfield goldmine — including some who were involved in the dramatic rescue -- said that mine managers had failed to leave enough of the deeper levels unexploited to provide support.

"There were simply not enough pillars left in the whole mine because of the value of the ore," one miner told The Australian. If they found an ore body, they’d just take it out."
Some believe that the earthquake may have been linked to the mine blasting.

The Australian Miners Union blamed the collapse on a law passed in 1998 that allowed a self-regulatory approach to safety regulations in the Tasmanian mining industry.
Miners have told The Australian and the AWU that the accident could have been prevented if a basic safety measure - the retention of unmined levels and areas, known as pillars - had been sufficiently followed.

They believe pillars were not left where they should have been in the mine because of the richness of the vein of gold found in the ore.

There have also been suggestions management had come under intense pressure from elements of the mine's joint venture company to reduce the high cost of taking a conservative approach to mine safety.

Former Beaconsfield Gold NL director John Miedecke has told The Australian Mr Gill had in the past been criticised by elements of the joint venture for taking a cautious approach to safe extraction of the ore.
The union is calling for an independent investigation.

The situation recalls this country's "miracle" rescue of the Quecreek miners trapped below ground in a flood in 2002. As Indiana University of Pennsylvania Professor Charles McCollester wrote about that near disaster:
God may well have had a hand in the rescue, but the flooding can’t be pinned on the deity. Human avarice and more than a century of fierce manipulation and corporate struggle for profit and control were behind the wall of water that swept into the Quecreek mine.