Anglo American has today begun to brief its Queensland-based workforce on the progress of its expert investigation into the methane ignition that occurred on 6 May 2020 at Grosvenor Mine.
CEO of Anglo American’s Metallurgical Coal business, Tyler Mitchelson, said the company’s focus continues to be on providing ongoing support for their five injured colleagues, four of whom have now been released from the hospital, while the fifth colleague remains in a stable condition.
Mr Mitchelson said while investigations were progressing and may take some time to formally conclude, the safety of his workforce was the priority and the company would continue to review controls in place across its underground mines as any technical or other findings become available from the investigations.
“We know from our expert analysis that there was a significant and unusual overpressure event on 6 May, where a large amount of methane was released into the longwall area, and seconds later a brief ignition occurred. At this stage, the ignition source has not been conclusively determined and testing continues.
“We also know that in the hours leading up to the incident, there were no non-compliant methane readings in the longwall area.
“Since 2016, we have invested around $230 million on gas drainage and gas management activities at Grosvenor Mine. Despite this investment and extensive controls in place to prevent an underground ignition of methane, we need to further improve our controls to respond to the specific combination of factors of an unusual and large overpressure event in the vicinity of the longwall with a potential ignition source.
“By drawing on technical learnings and information as it becomes available from the investigations, we have begun a review of our site methane management controls, which includes assessing additional technology options and applying any further improvements across our underground mines.
“As a first step, we are beginning a pilot study at our Moranbah North mine to assess the use of pressure sensors to remove power from the longwall face as an additional control if a significant overpressure event occurs. Whilst pressure sensors are already in use today, across the industry they have not been integrated for this particular purpose. Learnings from the pilot will be incorporated across our underground mines and shared with industry.
“We have already invested considerably in progressing the automation of our longwall equipment and expediting this work will also be part of the solution to reducing risks in underground mining.”
As the largest underground coal miner in Queensland, Anglo American has been at the forefront of technical innovation and has invested significantly in technology to improve safety in its mines, including additional methane detection equipment above and beyond regulatory requirements, digitisation to improve underground communication, and automation of equipment. We will continue to prioritise this work.
“It is unacceptable that five of our colleagues were seriously injured on 6 May and we will ensure that all relevant learnings from investigations under way and the Board of Inquiry are incorporated across our business,” Mr Mitchelson said.
“We continue to support our injured colleagues and their families as they continue their recovery.”
Mr Mitchelson reiterated that safety comes first, and mining would not resume until it was safe to do so. While mining activities have been suspended, the Grosvenor mine workforce has continued to be supported on full pay since the incident to enable us to work through our future plans step by step.
Anglo says that workforce briefings have been in line with its’ commitment to keep its workforce updated throughout this process.