Fire casts pall over future of coal mine and workers

The fire at the Grosvenor coal mine in central Queensland has been burning since Saturday.

The fire at the Grosvenor coal mine in central Queensland has been burning since Saturday. Photo: AAP

Workers already facing an uncertain future at a major coal mine have been “shocked and traumatised” by an underground fire that has burned for days.

Authorities are still trying to extinguish the blaze at central Queensland’s Grosvenor site after it erupted when methane gas ignited on the weekend, creating a “volatile situation”.

No one was injured by the blazed at Queensland’s largest underground coal mine, which is operated by Anglo American.

However, counselling has been offered to the Moranbah mine’s 1400 workers as they sweat on the future.

The fire is expected to burn for days and the mine is expected to be closed for months.

It comes after a 2020 gas explosion at the same mine left five workers with extensive burns.

“Given that this is the second such incident of a similar nature, you have to question the long-term viability of this mine and whether it’s actually safe to continue mining at that location,” local Queensland MP Dale Last said.

An exclusion zone has been imposed as authorities battle to control the underground fire.

A mobile unit powered by a jet engine is pumping nitrogen into the site while six ventilation shafts will be sealed to try to starve the fire of oxygen.

“It’s a volatile situation. There’s no question about that,” Last said.

“They’re endeavouring to put the fire out at the moment, and they’re saying that could take some time to bring it under control.

“[I] … certainly want to acknowledge those workers that are out there conducting that work – it’s hazardous, it’s dangerous.”

The Mining and Energy Union said support was being offered to workers as the Moranbah community contemplated the site’s future.

The mine produces a major share of Anglo American’s steelmaking coal output.

“We are aware that many workers are feeling shocked and traumatised by Saturday’s event,” the union said.

“We are working directly with members and with the company to ensure workers receive counselling and other health support they require at this time.”

The union said workers remained on normal pay at this stage but “prospects for reopening the mine remain unclear for now”.

“We are holding regular meetings with Anglo to discuss the evolving situation at the mine and the outlook for workers,” it said.

“We acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of all involved in managing the situation at Grosvenor, which has been frightening and upsetting for the whole mining community.”

Last said if the mine was closed, it would have a “big impact” on the Moranbah community.

“I have grave concerns about the mine ever reopening. Having said that, worker safety has to come first,” he said.

“If a decision is made to shut the mine, I’d like to think that Anglo would be doing everything they possibly can to find alternate jobs.

“It’s an uncertain time for those workers who are basically in limbo now.”

Anglo American’s Australian CEO Daniel van der Westhuizen met authorities in Moranbah on Tuesday for an update on the fire.

Smoke that has been billowing for days from the mine has “visibly reduced”, with no air quality concerns raised so far.

Anglo said on Tuesday it would work closely with authorities to plot the next steps “with a view to implementing a safe restart and continued safe operation at the appropriate time”.

Anglo is the world’s third largest exporter of metallurgical coal.


Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter.
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.