Seven men have died and another has been seriously injured following a collapse at an unlicensed open pit coal mine in Şırnak Province in southeastern Turkey on Tuesday 17 October 2017. All of the deceased men ate understood to have been pulled from the rubble alive and died later in hospital. The cause of the incident is unclear, but the company that employed the men has claimed they were involved in preparatory work to re-open the mine, which was closed by the General Directorate of Mining Works in 2013 following breaches of health and safety regulations, rather than actual mining.
Rescue operations at a mine in Sirnk Province, Turkey, on 17 October 2017. Associated Press.
The precise cause of the accident is still yet to be determined, though unlicensed mines tend to have poor safety standards. It is possible that the gas in the mine was caused by the miners encountering a pocket of pressurised mine gas within the coal seam, the release of which may also have caused the rockface to partially collapse.
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.
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