Coahuila has been on the front page of newspapers and websites on more than one occasion due to unfortunate accidents that have occurred in the coal mines in the entity. From the explosion at the Pasta de Conchos mine in 2006, which left 60 miners dead, to the flooding last week in a coal ‘well’ in the municipality of Sabinas, in which 10 miners remain trapped.
This latest incident occurred just over a year after the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare announced that, after six days of uninterrupted rescue work, seven miners lost their lives after the collapse of another coal mine, in Múzquiz .
The coal region of Coahuila is the most important in the country, currently contributing practically 100% of the national coal production, which is concentrated in three basins : Sabinas-Monclova, Fuentes – Río Escondido and Burgos (Colombia-San Ignacio). , according to data from the Ministry of Economy, and companies.
The first basin, which concentrates most of the mining mishaps already mentioned, covers an area of 6,877 square kilometers, where the existence of the Sabinas sub -basin stands out, described by the agency as “the most exploited”, as it has the main mining operations . region of.
In the dozens of photos that have circulated these days, about the rescue efforts of the 10 trapped miners, you can see faces full of coal, with only the basic equipment to work. These men, who work independently and in many cases informally, submerge every day in the so-called “pocitos”, as the vertical mines 50 and 150 meters deep are called, to extract coal.
Although this practice is not illegal, “it frequently incurs in irregularities and omissions, especially in the field of security,” says José Martínez Gómez, former president of the Association of Mining Engineers, Metallurgists and Geologists of Mexico (AIMMGM).
Coal extraction basically occurs in pits, drag mines, wells and deep mines. The first three develop on the periphery of the sub-basin, reaching a maximum depth of up to 70 meters, while the rest reach maximum depths of up to 350 meters.
“The problem is that the region is not dedicated to anything else. Most of the activity in the area is the exploitation of coal, especially when demand increases”, adds Martínez in an interview with Expansión .
The difficulty in finding a job drives the residents to accept casual jobs and in precarious security conditions in the “pocitos”. According to the National Survey of Occupation and Employment of the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, in the first quarter of this year, Coahuila registered an unemployment rate of 5%, higher than the national average, which is 3.5%.
“Because of the naturalness in which coal deposits are found, the processes are usually more rustic , without having, in most cases, studies to support them,” adds Martínez.
The Ministry of Economy places Coahuila as the main producer of coal in the country with between 65 and 70 coal mines distributed in three municipalities that make up the coal region.
Most of the concessions are in the hands of “small producers”, however, the lack of information about them and the fact that they are not registered in any of the organizations representing the sector, such as the Mining Chamber of Mexico or the AIMMGM, leaves these economic units operating in the shadows and without any type of control.
International organizations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) have expressed concern about whether small coal mines will be able to increase their production while complying with labor and safety regulations .
Armando Alatorre, president of the College of Mining Engineers, Metallurgists and Geologists of Mexico, adds that although mining is a completely regulated activity, this industry is smaller, since it satisfies a local demand .
“Our (coal) deposits, compared to others, are very small; the coal that we produce is barely enough for what we need here,” he asserts.
After the event of 2006, the Pasta de Conchos Family Organization emerged, made up of the relatives of the buried miners. The WWF highlights that this organization, in addition to seeking the rescue of their bodies, aims to denounce users who continue to buy coal from mines that do not comply with the legality and safety measures established in the Law.
The Ministry of Economy explains in a document on the sector, entitled “Profile of the Carbon Market”, that practically all the production of small producers ends up in power generation plants, while larger ones, in addition to supplying coal-fired power plants also use it for self-consumption in their metallurgical processes.
The SE document maintains that the volume of national coal production depends directly on demand.
The Federal Electricity Commission estimates that there are 2,330 coal-fired power plants in the world, mainly concentrated in China (946 units), the United States (286) and India (253). In Mexico there are three plants.
On February 10, the CFE published in a statement that it closed 60 contracts for the acquisition of 1.5 million tons of coal in the well-known coal region, prioritizing support for micro, small and medium producers, “in the absence of development productive life in the region” .