Six miners have been killed and a seventh injured following an explosion at the Hongxing Coal Mine in Pu'an County in Guizhou Province, China, at about 11.50 pm local time (3.50 pm GMT) on Saturday 22 December 2013. The precise cause of the explosion is not yet clear, although explosions in coal mines are typically caused when miners encounter pockets of gas trapped within coal seems. Local authorities are carrying out an investigation into the cause of this event.
The approximate location of the Hongxing Coal Mine. Google Maps.
Coal is formed when buried organic material, principally wood, in heated and pressurized, 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.
See also Ten miners killed by flood at coal mine in Shanxi Province, China, Seven people killed by Landslide in Shaanxi Province, China, Second explosion at Jilin mine kills at least seven more workers, Twenty-eight miners reported dead after explosion at Chinese coal mine and Seven workers killed by mine explosion in Hunan Province, China.
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