Freedom, Democracy And Mine Safety
Commentary by Harold Hough
While the world focused on the drama of the 33 trapped Chilean miners, another mining tragedy got little world attention. In China, a gas explosion triggered an avalanche of coal dust, trapping 37 miners. Of these, 26 have been found dead and 11 are still missing.
For Chile, their mining accident became the focus of the nation’s energy. President Sebastián Piñera said the nation would stop at nothing -- and it didn't. Offers of assistance came in and they took them. The resolve of the government, combined with innovations from the private sectors of a dozen countries, led, first, to finding and communicating with the men, then their rescue. Revolutionary drill bits that cut through to the miners came from the United States. The Chilean Coast Guard, with NASA help, designed and built the recovery capsule that brought each man to the surface. When Luis Urzua, the last man up, stepped out of the capsule, he said to the president, "We have done what the entire world was waiting for."
While Chile’s mining industry and government came under criticism for their failure to stop the accident, the rescue was open to the world. More than a thousand media reporters were at Copiapo to film and write about it. Millions around the world watched as the men came out to be greeted by grateful families and friends and a president who staked his reputation on the belief that his country would make this a great success.
Compare this to what happened in China, which is still ruled by a Communist dictatorship. China told foreign news people to stay away and it declined any outside rescue help. State media did show television and still pictures of rescue workers, but the incident was embarrassing and coverage was limited. China has the world's worst mine safety record. Last year it recorded 2,631 mining fatalities. True, that is lower than the 6,995 in 2002, but still reflects a much lower valuation on human life than it should have.
While the world’s greatest democracy, the United States, was kept from the Chinese accident, America’s mining industry rolled up its sleeves and provided critical help to Chile. The world’s best drill operator – an American who was working in Afghanistan drilling water wells immediately hopped on a plane to Chile to personally operate the drill. He stayed at the controls for 33 days – hardly getting any sleep while the miners remained trapped
Then there was the small Pennsylvania company Center Rock that provided the drilling equipment that got the miners out. It was the company's LP Drill - or low-profile drill - developed five years ago that has seen the company grow from 16 to 75 employees and put the company at the center of the Chilean rescue.
Center Rock volunteered to help in Chile after officials there confirmed the miners were still alive Aug. 22, but said soon afterward that they expected it would take until Christmas to dig a rescue shaft.
"They said, 'Well, heck, they ain't getting out till Christmastime, and I know and Brandon knows and we all knew we could get down to them faster than that," a Center Rock employee said. "We proved that Center Rock is a little company, but they do big things."
Ironically, it is small mining equipment companies that Obama seems to have targeted with his anti-mining/anti-small business agenda. While American mines are starved into extinction and American mining equipment companies are taxed and regulated out of business, those who care little for mine safety like the Chinese are given free rein by the Obama administration to expand their mining presence around the world.
Mine safety is more than regulations written by bureaucrats on particulates in the air. It is an understanding that human life is valuable and isn’t something to be thrown away to further the advance of a government’s agenda. And, it is the vibrant free market attitude in America that produces the best mining equipment in the world. In the long run, that is why those 33 Chilean miners are alive and safe above ground today, while Chinese families grieve.