On March 19, 2007, a methane explosion tore through the Ulyanovskaya deep coal mine, killing 110 miners and triggering a safety review of all Russian mines. It was the worst mining disaster in Russia in 60 years.
The Ulyanovskaya Coal Mine was commissioned in 2002, 75 km from the city of Novokuznetsk. At full production it mined 1.5 million tons of coking coal concentrate annually. The mine incorporated the latest in extraction, ventilation and safety equipment, including the MineWatch PC21 methane monitoring system, made by Davis Derby in England. When this monitoring system detected methane levels over 2%, it turned off power to the affected shaft, stopping work and activating extra ventilation. This system, costing 100 million rubles and installed at the mine for 400 million rubles, was state of the art for mine safety.
On March 19, 2007, the Ulyanovskaya mine had a total of 203 occupants underground. 20 of these were the mine’s senior management, and a British mining advisor Ian Robertson, there to launch a new safety program in preparation for the company’s opening on the stock market. At 2:19 pm the safety system signaled an increase in methane, and a huge explosion ripped through the entire mine. Although the explosion happened at 270 meters underground, in Shaft 11, surface vents erupted dust 1 meter into the air from the blast.
Rescue operations were begun immediately, with 28 ambulances and over 500 rescuers helping to save the trapped miners. Men 300 meters from the blast suffered broken bones and severe injuries; those closest to the blast were killed instantly. 110 miners died, with 108 bodies recovered.
Investigation into the blast focused around how such a modern mine, run by a reputable company, could suffer such an accident. Many at first said it was simply misfortune, an unavoidable risk of coal mining. Closer investigation revealed safety deficiencies at the mine. Authorities immediately shut down 30 mines in the area for safety inspection, and checked every mine in Russia – over 500 – in the following weeks.