Saturday, January 21, 2006

Should we put Oxygen in mines?

West Virginia's governor made a statement a few moments ago that he is going to drive through the state legislature and WV's Washington reps are go to drive through the national legislature 3 proposals.

1. Rapid response. He made the analogy that an ambulance shows up quickly at his house if he were to suddenly fall ill but the same is not true for a miner underground.

I have no issue with this idea but it seems to me that there were tons of rescue workers at the sites of the last two tragedies very quickly. How much faster can we realistically make it.

2. Electronic tracking. He claims the technology is here to track the locations of the miners electronically is ready.

This is a very difficult problem as this mine in places (and others in that part of the country) goes 2 miles underground. Electronic signals don't travel well through coal and stone and earth. That said, if such technology is ready for prime time we should get it in all of our mines as quickly as possible. It appears that in this case they pretty much knew where the trapped miners were and just couldn't get to them because of fire. That is not always the case. If we can use technology to know very quickly where trapped miners are it should be deployed.

3. Oxygen stations located at periodic intervals in the mine will be mandatory.

This is definitely a double edged sword and probably would have done these poor miners no good. Oxygen fuels fires and explosions. While I am no expert I think we need to hear from credentialled experts before we enact this possibly dangerous mandate. In the last two disasters I have heard numerous "experts" claim that this is an idea that is more dangerous than it is life saving. Small fires get bigger and hotter, small methane explosions get huge. This is all very logical. It is similar to the tradeoff of our soldiers between more armor and more mobility.

All of that said, if the miners know of technology or changes that will make their job less dangerous we should use the body politic to get those changes enacted.


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