When there was a deadly explosion at West Virginia’s Sago Mine in 2006, the United States media was able to quickly inform the public about the operation’s poor safety record — something that would be impossible in British Columbia without government cooperation.
Yesterday, I reported how British Columbians have very little information about the safety and regulation of mining compared to Americans, making it difficult for journalists and activists to watchdog that industry.
The reporting on the Sago Mine disaster, which killed 12 workers, is a dramatic example of that difference. On day two of the story, the Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr. was able to use the United States government’s Mine Data Retrieval System to inform readers the mine had “a recent history of roof falls and serious safety violations.”
In 2004, the Sago Mine reported an injury rate that was three times that of similar-size underground mines across the country.
And last year, the Anker West Virginia Mining Co. operation was fined more than $24,000 for about 200 alleged violations, according to U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data.
During the last six months of 2005, the Sago Mine reported a dozen accidental roof falls, according to MSHA records.
Only one of those roof falls caused an injury, the MSHA records show.
Three of the roof falls occurred after International Coal Group finalized its purchase of the Anker operation in mid-November.
During their last three complete examinations of the Sago Mine, MSHA inspectors cited the company for more than 180 violations.
After the most recent such inspection — from early October to late December — MSHA issued 46 citations and three orders for a variety of safety violations. Inspectors listed 18 of those as “serious and substantial.” These “S&S’ violations are those that MSHA believes are likely to cause an accident that would seriously injure a miner.
It’s intolerable that this kind of information about mining isn’t publicly posted in British Columbia.
Instead, journalists, activists and citizens have to go cap in hand to the government, begging for it to be released.
The only alternative is to request that information through the province’s lengthy and often frustrating freedom of information process.
But what’s even more frustrating is how little seems to have been done to change this state-imposed ignorance.