Disasters at coal mines in Turkey and the United States have left more than 200 people dead. At least 245 mine workers died in an explosion and fire on May 13 in Soma, western Turkey, and two workers died after being trapped in a mine in Wharton in southwestern West Virginia late on May 12.
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said 787 men were in the Soma Komur Isletmeleri AS mine when a fire broke out during a shift change that knocked out power and shut down ventilation shafts and elevators.
Yildiz said most of the dead had succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning. Fresh air was being pumped into the mine to try to keep those trapped inside alive.
Because of the disaster, President Abdullah Gul declared three days of mourning and canceled a scheduled state visit to China.
Yildiz said it would be premature to say whether the blast was due to negligence. He said Turkey’s Work and Social Security Ministry said it has named three investigators to determine the cause of the explosion.
Turkey has a dismal worker safety record. The International Labor Organization ranked the EU candidate nation third worst in the world for worker deaths in 2012. More than 3,000 workers have been killed in Turkish coal mines since 1941, when the country began keeping such records.
Demonstrators took to the streets in Istanbul and Ankara, some wearing miner’s hard hats and headlamps. Police fired tear gas and cannons to disperse the crowds.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is investigating the deaths of two miners at the Brody Mine No. 1 in Wharton, WV. There were so many previous safety problems at that coalfield that the federal government had deemed it a “pattern violator,” a term reserved for the worst offenders in the mining industry.
The MSHA specified alleged violations involving methane gas, problems with emergency preparedness and escape methods and roof hazards.
Although that designation subjects a mine to greater regulatory oversight, the agency doesn’t have the authority to shut the mine.
The mine is owned by a subsidiary of Patriot Coal, which has attributed any problems at the coalfield to a previous owner. In its annual report in December 2013, Patriot Coal said it was “vigorously contesting” MSHA’s decision to designate Brody Mine No. 1 a pattern violator.
The accident was caused by a “ground failure,” or floor collapse, in the mine, the MSHA’s Amy Louviere told The Associated Press.
Last week, the MSHA issued a report saying eight miners had been killed nationwide during the first quarter of this year and noting a “spike” in such deaths so far in the second quarter.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com