As hopes of rescuing 10 men trapped in a flooded Mexican coal mine fade, evidence grows that the populist policies of the current administration have helped revive the dangerous and primitive mines that continue to claim lives. I was.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador enacted a plan two years ago to revive coal-fired power plants in northern Mexico, prioritizing coal purchases from the smallest mines. The purchase was part of the president’s policy to give the poorest Mexicans more income.
In doing so, the administration has revived a form of coal mining so dangerous that members of both houses of the Mexican Congress tried to ban it a decade ago.
Experts say very narrow and primitive mines are inherently unsafe because only one miner can lower the narrow pit at a time, mining only a bucket of coal. In some holes, known as ‘pocitos’ or ‘little wells’, air is pumped and water is pumped out through plastic hoses. Some don’t even have it. There are usually no safety exits or auxiliary shafts.
Fifteen men were working August 3 at the Pinabete mine in Sabinas, Coahuila, about 70 miles (115 kilometers) southwest of Eagle Pass, Texas. A nearby town—he buried a shaft about 40 meters (yards) deep. It blew away so many wooden supports, forming a floating barrier to rescue the crew.
Five workers managed to escape as the mine flooded, but no contact was made with the rest of the workers.
Promoting coal is part of López Obrador’s efforts to strengthen the state-owned electricity company, the Federal Electricity Commission, chaired by conservative politician Manuel Bartlett. The policy was not only questioned by environmentalists. Many also said it endangered miners.
“Manuel Bartlett’s brilliant idea of buying more coal from small producers and more coal from large producers lacked the necessary safeguards to protect the livelihoods of the workers. It has created a black market that leads to the exploitation of the mines,” Miguel Riquelmecoahuila state governor and member of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party said after the accident.
Utilities defended a decision to purchase about two-thirds of their coal for power generation from small mines.
Miguel Alejandro Lopez, sub-director of purchasing at the company, said in July of the orders received under Lopez Obrador: “Because, as he (the president) said, one of the main failures of this country is inequality.”
Small-scale mine owners must provide evidence of compliance with labor laws governing mine safety in Mexico, Lopez said.
However, even the president admitted that the Pinabete mine did not comply with several existing safety and labor standards.
Accidents in small mines are depressingly frequent.
In June 2021, seven miners died at a similar small mine in Mudzkis Township, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southwest of Eagle Pass, Texas. The Mikaran mine shaft also flooded and partially collapsed, and it took days to retrieve the miners’ bodies.
Operations are similar to Wildcat mines of the American Wild West. A horizontal coal plane extends from the bottom of the shaft and is supported by wooden poles.
In some mines, the miners and the pit head winches used to extract the coal are shed from old car engines placed on blocks.
Legislators already knew the dangers of narrow, unreinforced vertical shafts. Accumulation of explosive gases and risk of flooding are common.
As far back as 2012, Mexican lawmakers tried to pass a law to end such primitive mining. They still remember the 2006 tragedy at the nearby Pasta de Conchos mine, where gas buildup caused a fire and explosion that killed 65 miners. It was a larger mine that proved to be poorly monitored for gas.
A 2012 Senate bill proposed “a complete ban on vertical coal mining, also known as ‘Pocitos’, as this is where the greatest risk arises.”
In 2013, the House bill stated that “coal mining activities carry generalized risks because the techniques are artisanal and rudimentary… risky mining practices should be minimized or It has to be eliminated,” he said.
It is unclear why these laws were not passed.
Mine safety activist Christina Auerbach noted that coal is politically sensitive in Coahuila, especially among poor communities that once depended on coal for their livelihoods.
“Coal is a political issue in Coahuila, not an economic one,” says Auerbach.
She said at least 80 miners died in accidents in Coahuila from 2006 to last year. “Like Pinabete, the smallest businesses in coal regions are the most volatile,” she said.
But small-scale coal mining appeared to be dying in Coahuila until Lopez Obrador directed the Federal Electricity Commission to increase purchases.
“The area has been revived with a new purchase order from the Federal Commission,” said Diego Martinez, professor of applied geosciences at the Autonomous University of Coahuila.
López Obrador wanted to eliminate cheating and corruption in coal purchases, but apparently failed. A man was arrested in connection with the incident at the Pinabete mine after it was discovered that the purchase contract and Labor Department records clearly registered the mine under a different name or title.
No one was convicted in the 2006 fatal accident at the Pasta de Conchos mine.
This isn’t the first time coal mines in Coahuila have been accused of illegal activity. Miners made only $200 a week, and even if a handful of government inspectors found violations, they were hard to shut down.
Lopez Obrador said the contract for the Pinabete mine with the Electricity Commission explicitly stated that it could not be subcontracted, but apparently it was.
Auerbach, a mine safety activist, said hundreds of “high-risk” small mines remained in operation.
“[Miners]die all the time, which is why we are calling for the revocation of all coal concessions granted in high-risk areas,” she said.
Fabiola Sanchez and Mark Stevenson, Associated Press
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Mexico’s president has revived dangerous forms of coal mining
Source link Mexico’s president has revived dangerous forms of coal mining