Thursday, April 22, 2010

State To Look At Mine Safety

By John Larson

SOCORRO – The recent Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia on April 5 in which 29 miners died from a methane gas explosion, has brought attention to mine safety and design, and the New Mexico Bureau of Mine Safety in Socorro will be focusing on those issues at its annual conference May 3-5 at Macey Center.
Mine design and safety is also a major course of study at New Mexico Tech, according to its Department of Mining Engineering. Chair of the department Professor Navid Mojtabai said the design of a mine is one of the keys to mining safety.
“We have major course - a six credit course – on different mine systems. With every design concept we seriously talk about safety, and stability,” Mojtabai said. “Our courses cover underground and surface mining, but the stability issues are with underground.”
He said the most important issue in coal mining is ventilation, and the danger of build up of methane gas.
“Methane is common in coal mines, found naturally in coal seams,” Mojtabai said. “It is trapped in pockets, and as you excavate these will be released. To control it they have to relieve these pockets and bring in a sufficient amount of air.
“If you allow it to accumulate you run the risk of having an explosion,” he said. “There’s always a risk and that’s because there are uncertainties. There are minimums for the quantity of air, and the engineer can measure the concentrate of any gases and continually survey of the ventilation on a regular basis.”
[In West Virginia] they allowed methane to accumulate in certain areas,” Mojtabai said.
State Mine Inspector Terence Foreback made an in-depth inspection of San Juan coal mine in Farmington two weeks ago.
“All mining operations are inherently dangerous,” Foreback said in a press release. “State safety regulations are designed to protect miners, but owners, operators and the miners who work the mines must also make safety a priority.”
Foreback noted major differences between New Mexico’s San Juan Coal Company’s underground coal mine and West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch Mine. Two of the major differences are monitoring and the ability to neutralize potentially explosive mine gases in mined-out areas. The San Juan Coal Company Mine is the only mine in the United States that utilizes a monitoring and neutralization system in abandoned areas. Another difference is the San Juan Mine refuge chambers near the working face already have a borehole established to the surface for communication, fresh air, food and water. There was no communication between the refuge chamber and the surface at the Upper Big Branch Mine, which required drilling a hole from the surface.
New Mexico ranks among the top 10 coal mining states, with operations in the Grants, Gallup and Farmington.
“Compared to other countries the U.S. has far better regulations,” Mojtabai said. “We are still mining more and more, and exposing the miners to more risk, but underground mining is not in the top ten of most hazardous jobs, as far as fatal accidents are concerned.”
Mojtabai said the demand for mining engineers is indicative of the continued need for not only coal, but ore of all types.
“We see an increasing number of applicants coming in and students graduating. The job market in mining is very strong,” he said. “In fact, the number of new graduates in mining is low compared with the needs in industry.”

No comments:

Post a Comment