Mine disasters

The Sunshine Mine, 1972

The Sunshine Mine is/was in Idaho near the towns of Kellogg and Wallace. The Mine itself was at one time the largest silver mine in the world. There are workings deeper than 5000 feet below the surface. The mine gets quite hot at depth (temperatures at the working face can get as hot as 127 degrees or more). The mine has produced over 360 million ounces of silver.

In May of 1972 a fire developed in the mine and ultimately claimed 91 lives. A mine fire is always a serious situation, but this one was made much worse due to gasses released by polyurethane foam that had been use to seal old stopes and workings to improve air circulation. There is a superb book "The Deep Dark" by Gregg Olsen. It is a riveting account of the disaster as well as a quality look at the lifestyle of an underground metal miner.

After you have read Olsen's book, read these:

The paper "a view from inside" was written by Bob Launhardt, the Safety inspector at the sunshine mine, and he makes strong objection to some of the conclusions drawn in the USBM report, in particular with regard to the involvement of polyurethane foam in the mine fire.

The Argonaut Gold Mine, 1922

The Argonaut Mine is in the motherlode gold district of California near the city of Jackson. The mine workings are as deep as 5570 feet and connect to the nearby Kennedy Mine. In August of 1922 a fire started and ultimately claimed the lives of all 47 men working in the mine.

There is a book, "47Down" by O. Henry Mace written about this disaster, but it is really not all that good, especially in comparison with the book about the Sunshine Mine. The writer forgets what he is writing about and spends as much time discussing the career of a female journalist Ruth Finney as he does the mine disaster.

Sunnyside Mine, Silverton, Colorado, 1978

The best part about this is that nobody was hurt or killed. The accident happened on a Sunday when nobody was working. The Sunnyside mine had workings under Lake Emma at 12300 feet in the San Juan Mountains north of Silverton, Colorado. Survey work as well as diamond core drilling told them they were 70 feet below the bottom of the lake. However there was an undetected fissure that came to within 5 feet of the mine workings. On Sunday afternoon of June 4, 1978 Lake Emma broke through, flooding the workings and filling various workings with over 1 million tons of mud. Estimates are that as much as 500 million gallons of mud and water dumped into the mine. "At the American Tunnel portal at Gladstone on the other side of the mountain, water flowed from the mine in 8-10 foot waves, filled with mine timbers, equipment, and debris."

Mining was going on under the lake following gold ore in the Spur vein. On Friday, two men refused to go to work because of increasing amounts of water coming into the stope where they were working. The usual shift was 125 people and certainly all would have been killed. After 2 years of rehabilitation the mine was returned to production. The mine closed in 1991 (for the last time?).

A side note about the American Tunnel. The American Tunnels was originally part of the Gold King Mine at Gladstone. This is west of the Sunnyside Mine on Cement Creek. In 1922 the American Tunnel was extended to 6233 feet and below the main workings of the Gold King Mine. In 1959 work began to extend the Tunnel to below the Sunnyside workings. By 1962 the tunnel had been driven to a final length of 11000 feet and was 1800 feet below the Sunnyside workings. It provided drainage and ore haulage. Water from the Lake Emma disaster filled the tunnel with mud.

Sunnyside Mine, Silverton, Colorado, 1978

The botton line on this one is that the EPA is incompetent and quite capable of making any situation worse. On August 5, 2015, after the EPA fooled with a plug holding back and trapping water in the mine, the plug broke releasing trapped water into the Animas River. It is not clear that this is even a disaster at all.

There was a big spill of trapped water, mostly colored by iron compounds, and it got a lot of news coverage. The statement on the EPA website declares:

“The Gold King Mine release was equivalent to four to seven days of ongoing GKM acid mine drainage. The total amount of metals entering the Animas River following the 9-hour release was comparable to the amount of metals carried by the river in one to two days of high spring runoff. However, the concentrations of metals were higher than historical acid mine drainage."

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Tom's Old Mine Info / tom@mmto.org