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By John Helmer in Moscow

The federal mine inspectorate in Russia, Rostekhnadzor (RTN), has cleared Evraz’s mine subsidiary Yuzhkuzbassugol (YKU) to reopen the Esaulskaya mine, after a methane accident on January 20 led to a regional court-ordered closure on January 25. Evraz is owned by Roman Abramovich’s Millhouse holding, and Alexander Abramov.

To date, Evraz has released no information on the Esaulskaya accident, the Kemerovo region court hearing, or the closure on the company website. Details have been made available by RTN and the local office of Rosugleprof (“Russian Coalminers Union”). The closure order was confirmed by Evraz spokesman, Alexei Agureyev.

The Esaulskaya accident was a fire ignited by methane concentration above the regulated safety level; although 68 miners were in the area of the methane ignition, none was hurt.

The RTN investigatory commission issued a report last week saying that it had analyzed the causes of the fire in the Esaulskaya shaft, and was satisfied that the company management had eliminated the accident factors, and was now in compliance with the applicable mine safety standards. The shut-down order was lifted after two weeks.

Agureyev declined to confirm the volume of coking coal produced at the Esaulskaya mine, mostly of Russian F grade; industry sources estimate this at about 15% of YKU’s total. At peak in 2008, Evraz produced 14 million tonnes of raw coal, including 9.1 million tonnes of coking coal. Of this total, YKU produced 13 million tonnes and 8.4 million tonnes, respectively. In 2009, the Evraz group of mines report output of just over 10 million tonnes of coking coal, and 4 million tonnes of steam coal. Total proved and probable coal resources of the YKU coal company, Evraz says, amount to 1.6 billion tonnes, including 1 billion tonnes of hard coking coal.

Anatoly Anikin, deputy chairman of Rosugleprof, told CRU Steel News that at the Evraz holding, “they are gradually re-equipping the mines with quite modern mining systems and machinery. But still, the staff problem is vital. Personnel have to be trained to work with foreign equipment. Why do you think methane is exploding? Because ventilation is a serious science. If you excavate faster than the air is cleaned, you’ll get accidents.”

Anikin said that he has read the latest RTN report, and is satisfied with safety compliance on the reopening of the mine. “Evraz is interested in solving the problems at the mine and getting it back to operation,” he told CRU Steel News, “so they probably remedied the violations fast and well enough for the Rostekhnadzor committee to approve the changes. First of all, I examined the papers on the latest methane accident and have to admit it wasn’t serious enough to close the mine down for too long; and second, Rostekhnadzor wouldn’t dare assume such big responsibility as to let Evraz reopen the mine if a threat remained”.

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