A multinational mining company repeatedly allowed flammable gas to reach critical levels years before a dangerous explosion finally rocked the coal sector on May 6.
Leaked Queensland Government and Anglo American documents recently revealed multiple cases of high methane levels at the Grosvenor Coal Mine in Moranbah, 198km southwest of Mackay.
The flammable gas reached dangerous levels at least 98 times before the explosion seriously injured five underground mine workers, according to mine record entries from the Queensland Mines Inspectorate (QMI) and high-potential incidents reports from the proponent obtained by News Limited.
Four of the employees, aged 43, 51, 45 and 51, have been moved from intensive care and are being treated for face, lung and throat wounds in the burns unit at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.
The documents are touted to show QMI repeatedly received details on “high-potential incidents” (HPIs) and made many visits to the mine site without ever ordering Anglo to suspend the operation.
These incidents include underground “floor heaves”, where the rock fractured and “uncontrolled” levels of methane were released, and forced workers to evacuate back in 2016 and 2017.
Inspectors who tested the site found methane levels were 2.85 per cent and “dangerous” and not “acceptable”. They warned the proponent that its methane monitors were failing to detect the actual concentration of methane gas that could be present and cause an explosion as far back as October 2017.
They warned Anglo in May 2018 about “unsatisfactory” continuation of methane HPIs and ordered the proponent to either minimise or “preferably eliminate” the risk. The mine was also blamed to be the source of 60 per cent of all methane limit breaches across nine underground mines in the Sunshine State.
The company defended its decision not to suspend the mine, claiming it “proactively” manages gas through draining, ventilating and installing methane monitors as required by law.
“[The mine’s extra sensors and ability to detect high-methane incidents were] a demonstration of the strong reporting culture and compliance within our operations,” an Anglo American spokesperson told News Limited.
QMI did not reveal why it never ordered the mine’s suspension and instead decided to audit industry-wide methane issues in 2018.
“QMI’s aim is zero serious harm and we have a zero tolerance for unsafe worksites,” a spokesperson said in a public statement.
State Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy Anthony Lynham recently ordered an independent inquiry into the explosion and a further 27 high-methane incidents at the mine in the past 12 months.
The inquiry will find out what caused the explosion and is expected to provide an interim report to the State Government in August 2020.