Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Collapse at coal mine kills five in Afghanistan.

Five miners have died and another one is missing following a collapse at a coal mine at Dahan-e-Tor, in the Dara-e-Soof District of Samagan Province, Afghanistan, on Tuesday 26 December 2017. Several other miners were injured in the event, which was reportedly caused by a methane explosion, which caused a section of tunnel to collapse. The mine is reported to have been an illegal (unlicensed) mine, one of many such mines operated local artisanal miners in the impoverished region.

The approximate location of the Dahan-e-Tor mine. Google Maps.

Coal is formed when buried organic material, principally wood, in heated and pressurised, forcing off hydrogen and oxygen (i.e. water) and leaving more-or-less pure carbon. Methane is formed by the decay of organic material within the coal. There is typically little pore-space within coal, but the methane can be trapped in a liquid form under pressure. Some countries have started to extract this gas as a fuel in its own right. When this pressure is released suddenly, as by mining activity, then the methane turns back to a gas, expanding rapidly causing, an explosion. This is a bit like the pressure being released on a carbonated drink; the term 'explosion' does not necessarily imply fire in this context, although as methane is flammable this is quite likely.

Afghanistan has considerable reserves of coal, iron ore, copper and other minerals, which it has hoped to use to attract foreign investment. However frequent attacks on mining projects by militant groups opposed to foreign involvement in the country has kept investors away, with China pulling out of a US$3 billion copper mining project in Logar Province in the east of the country in 2012. As a result safety standards at Afghan mines tend to be virtually non-existent, with the nation lacking the money to invest in projects that it runs, and many smaller artisanal mines being totally unregulated, and often employing child labour. 

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