October 22, 1913: Dawson mine disaster killed 263 in New Mexico

October 22, 2013

Albuqurque Journal photo and caption:  Iron crosses dot the Dawson Cemetery in Colfax County, the site of a once bustling coal mining region. The Dawson mines produced millions of tons of coal in the first half of the 20th century, but also took the lives of many miners. On Oct. 22, 1913, 263 miners were killed in an explosion. On Feb. 8, 1923, another Dawson mine explosion killed 123 miners. (Journal File)

Albuquerque Journal photo and caption: Iron crosses dot the Dawson Cemetery in Colfax County, the site of a once bustling coal mining region. The Dawson mines produced millions of tons of coal in the first half of the 20th century, but also took the lives of many miners. On Oct. 22, 1913, 263 miners were killed in an explosion. On Feb. 8, 1923, another Dawson mine explosion killed 123 miners. (Journal File)

Who remembers, today?

In our recent history, a disaster in one small town or one company that killed 263 people would stand out.  But the Dawson, New Mexico, coal mine explosion of October 22, 1913, is mostly forgotten today.

100 years later, all ten of the town’s mines are closed, victim to increasing use of petroleum as fuel in the U.S.  The town itself is a ghost town, though once its schools produced scholars from children of immigrants, and state champions on the athletic fields.  A strike by miners in Colorado may have contributed to the explosion, as corporate executives tried to goose coal production in Dawson to cover shortfalls from mines closed by the strikes.  Unions then grew to major influence in American life, including increasing safety in coal mining.  But unions, today, hold waning influence generally.

Many or most of those who died didn’t speak English.  Instead, they spoke the languages of their native lands, Italy, Greece, Germany, and other European nations.  Despite its location in New Mexico, there were few Native Americans, or residents or immigrants of Hispanic origins.

Today’s anniversary should be a departure point for rich discussion of many threads in American history, the rise of industrialization, the changing industries of the cowboy frontier towns, the changing ownership of lands from Native Americans to big corporations, the changing nature of work and union influence, the dramatically different views of government and government regulation, the role of immigration and immigrants.

In your state’s standards, Common Core State Standards or not, can a teacher intrigue students with real history in any of those ways?

The Albuquerque Journal remembered the disaster in an article in Sunday’s edition:

The second-deadliest coal mining disaster in U.S. history occurred 100 years ago this week in a northern New Mexico town that no longer exists, save for the small cemetery bearing the remains of many of the 263 miners killed in a massive explosion on the afternoon of Oct. 22, 1913.

Though the town of Dawson and the Stag Canyon No. 2 coal mine are mere footnotes in history to most people, the men who died there a century ago – mostly Italian and Greek immigrants lured to the coal fields by decent-paying jobs and all the amenities a company town like Dawson could offer – are far from forgotten.

In ceremonies today at the Raton Museum, the miners killed in what has become known as the Dawson Mining Disaster will be remembered by descendents, historians and New Mexico’s Italian and Greek communities.

“I think it’s important to honor these men, and all immigrants who helped build America,” said Nicki Panagopoulos, a member of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Albuquerque.

A second disaster a decade later killed another 123 miners.

Who remembers? How should we study these events in our history classes?  Do we study such events at all?

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English: Main Street of Dawson, New Mexico. Ta...

Main Street of Dawson, New Mexico. Taken in 1916. Though once an active community of 9,000 residents supporting ten coal mines, it is now a ghost town, shut down by Phelps Dodge Corporation in 1950, and bulldozed. Wikipedia image


Why you should be concerned about mercury pollution

December 28, 2011

Mercury poisoning marches through our culture with a 400-year-old trail, at least.  “Mad as a hatter” refers to the nerve damage hatmakers in Europe demonstrated, nerve damage we now know came from mercury poisoning.

In the 20th century annals of pollution control, the Minimata disaster stands as a monument to unintended grotesque consequences of pollution, of mercury poisoning.

A key Japanese documentary on the disaster is now available from Zakka Films on DVD, with English subtitles.

Anyone who scoffs at EPA’s four-decades of work to reduce mercury pollution should watch this film before bellyaching about damage to industry if we don’t allow industry to kill babies and kittens in blind, immoral pursuit of profit at public expense.

American Elephants, for example, is both shameless and reckless  in concocting lies about mercury pollution regulation (that site will not allow comments that do not sing in harmony with the pro-pollution campaign (I’d love for someone to prove me wrong)).  Almost every claim made at that post is false.  Mercury is not harmless; mercury from broken CFL bulbs cannot begin to compare to mercury in fish and other animals; mercury pollution is not minuscule (mercury warnings stand in all 48 contiguous states, warning against consumption of certain fish).  President Obama has never urged anything but support for the coal-fired power industry — although he has expressed concerns about pollution, as any sane human would.

Republicans have lost their moral compass, and that loss is demonstrated in the unholy campaign for pollution, the campaign against reducing mercury emissions.  It’s tragic.  Action will be required in November to stop the tragedy from spreading.  Will Americans respond as they should at the ballot boxes?

Can you watch “Minimata:  The Victims and Their World,” and not urge stronger controls on mercury emissions?  Can you support the murder of children and workers, for profit?


U.S. exporting energy? Then conservation is a boost to economy, too

September 4, 2011

 

Do Americans have great business sense?

Then it is unlikely that we’ll pass up the opportunity to export energy for profit — and consequently, we’ll boost our wind generating capacities, geothermal power generation, and step in to retake the lead in solar cell development and production, won’t we?

Here is a story I’ll bet you missed last spring — I missed it, too; from the Daily Ticker:

Just as the average price for gas is set to hit $4 a gallon this week, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports February was the third month out of four that the U.S. — the world’s most energy-hungry nation — actually exported more oil that it imported.

Despite the notion that the U.S. is currently hugely reliant on foreign oil, the country sold 34,000 more barrels of petroleum products a day than it imported in November 2010. And, in both December and February, the U.S. sold 54,000 more barrels a day. Net imports have not been negative for nearly two decades.

Part of this has to do with weak U.S. demand in recent years due to the recession. The other part rests on the growing demand in our own backyard for not only crude oil, but refined oil as well.

Mexico, Latin America and even OPEC member Ecuador are some of the U.S.’s top customers for fuel products, namely refined oil. Rising demand in these countries far outpaces their capacity to refine crude oil into petroleum products like gasoline or diesel fuel.

But, as Dan points out in the accompanying clip, this is not the only news item that hints at this country’s ability to export energy to the rest of the world.

Yesterday, Arch Coal announced a $3.4 billion all-cash deal to buy its competitor International Coal Group. The transaction would make the newly formed company the second-largest U.S. supplier of metallurgical coal, which is the coal used to make steel.

And because of growing demand in places like India and China, where coal is used for electricity, the U.S. has started to export more at higher prices than in previous years.

Then there’s natural gas. U.S. reserves of natural gas have also grown considerably in the last decade to record levels. A new report by the Potential Gas Committee suggests that in the last two years, potential U.S. natural gas supplies have increased by 3 percent. Two years ago, however, the group reported that supplies jumped 36 percent.

The U.S. does not currently export liquefied natural gas, but that time may soon be on the horizon.

Watch a video discussion of the news:
Vodpod videos no longer available.
What Energy Problem? U.S. Oil Exports Are on th…, posted with vodpod

Of course the U.S. is not about to join OPEC.  But this news, quietly sneaking up on us as it did, should change the nature of the discussions about our energy future, and the direction, too.

In the first place, energy substitution — wind and geothermal for coal and oil, for example — becomes an issue of generating revenue, rather than just saving imports.  If we can get power from the wind for free and sell coal to others for profit as a result, we get wins for U.S. citizenry and big wins for U.S. industry.

I haven’t seen much discussion of the topic.  Stephen Leahy wrote an opinion piece for Common Dreams suggesting that oil companies have a political stake in keeping this news quiet, in order to get greater advantage for themselves, especially in electoral politics.

The only reason U.S. citizens may be forced to endure a risky, Canadian-owned oil pipeline called Keystone XL is so oil companies with billion-dollar profits can get the dirty oil from Canada’s tar sands down to the Gulf of Mexico to export to Europe, Latin America or Asia, according to a new report by Oil Change International released Wednesday.

“Keystone XL will not lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil, but rather transport Canadian oil to American refineries for export to overseas markets,” concludes the report, titled “Exporting Energy Security”.

Little of the 700,000 to 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil pumped through the 2,400-kilometre, seven-billion-dollar Keystone XL will end up in U.S. gas tanks because the refineries on the Gulf Coast are all about expanding export markets. One huge refinery operator called Valero has been touting the potential export revenues of tar sands oil to investors, the report found.

In 1941, the U.S. was the largest oil-producing and oil-exporting nation in the world.  When we cut off oil to Japan, Japan determined to attack the U.S. to try to get energy superiority in the Pacific, and our nation was pulled into World War II.

Is it possible we can avoid future energy wars, and change the game with our energy exporting capabilities over the next decade?  What do you think?  Does this change any game, and how does it change things?

Watch those exports.

 


Watt’s Up puts collective hand into the fan – er, um, windmill

February 6, 2011

In the march to brand all non-fossil fuel use as politically incorrect (at least for those who deny global warming should get our policy making attention), the poobahs and commenters at Watts Up have outdone themselves in seeing conspiracies under the ice, mountains where there are molehills, and molehills where there are mountains.

If you wonder whether global warming deniers are biased, Watts’s blog just confessed.

We’re quite frozen in here in Texas, you know.  The unseasonable warm air (high pressure) over the Arctic that warms the sea and melts the ice also pushed the Arctic air south over the U.S.  Where that frigid air met wet air coming from the Gulf of Mexico, weather ensued (yeah, warming may have increased the amount of moisture, too — but that just makes the anti-warmists go blind, so we won’t say it).

Texas got hit with rolling power blackouts last week, when the cold weather increased demand for electricity and crimped the ability of several utilities to bring on power plants build to generate to meet such extra demands.  Some coal-fired plants were off-line, a couple froze up, and natural gas supplies were not in the right place at the right time, so some natural gas plants couldn’t fire up.

But Anthony Watts, seeing spooks behind every clump of Texas Bluestem (Big or Little), promptly got a post up blaming wind power turbines. His post’s headline gives you the whole story as Watts spun it:  “We Spent Billions on Wind Power… and All I Got Was a Rolling Blackout.”

If you’re wondering just what in the world he was thinking, you’d be demonstrating more common sense than the average global warming denier.

Freezing rain had been predicted, but not so much as Texas got.  The follow-up snow also surpassed predictions and expectations — for example, the “skiff to 1″ accumulation” predicted for Dallas turned into 5″ to 7″ through much of the area — stopping any hope that the ice might clear so schools could reopen.  Texas got slammed by the same enormous storm that slammed much of the Midwest and Northeast, with similar results.  For Super Bowl host cities Fort Worth, Arlington and Dallas, that created big problems.  Texas is not equipped to deal with much winter weather, let alone so much in so little time.

In cold weather, power plants fail.  Sometimes power lines fail when the plants stay up.  Sometimes it’s just a question of wheeling power from one part of a local, regional or national grids.  Sometimes the wheeling fails because a switch fails or . . . a failure of capacity can have myriad causes.  In the past, we covered for these problems with additional generating capacity, in excess of what might be needed at any point — mandated by state and local utility commissions to insure power at all times.

Texas deregulated electrical power more than a decade ago, too — which means that market forces govern what gets built and whether there is any emergency generating capacity.

Free enterprise cannot take any blame in the kingdom of those who deny climate and economics.  So when the rolling blackouts plagued Texas, the search for a scapegoat became frenetic.   The question was, who could take the blame that could cast what was perceived to be the most aspersional light on Al Gore, the case for global warming, and anything approaching “green energy?”

Ah, there’s the target!   Wind power.

Watts Up quickly claimed that Texas windmill-generated electricity had failed, if not in fact, then in economic hypothesis.  If the windmills didn’t fail themselves, it must be that the money invested in them could have been better invested in coal-fired power plants, or oil-fired plants, and the blame can be squarely laid at the feet of Michael Mann, or the UN’s IPCC, or Al Gore, or Rachel Carson, or John Muir, or Aeolus — or anyone other than the real trouble, the freakish weather.  Avoiding blame on the weather is important to denialists, because such “perfect storm” combinations come astonishingly close to the predictions of some global warming hypotheses.

So blame must be established, far from the house of warming denialists if possible.  Watts’ blog attacked windpower all through 2010; ignoring any rebuttals, all Watts had to do was point to his earlier published articles.

Days later the facts come out, as revealed in a lengthy investigative story published this morning in the Dallas Morning News with this lead:

The operators of Texas’ electricity grid blamed myriad problems at power plants across Texas for last week’s rolling blackouts.  But interviews and a review of documents by The Dallas Morning News reveal that the breakdown of a cluster of coal-fired power plants in Central Texas was at the heart of the problem.

These facts were known days ago.  In fact the second comment at Watts’ blog corrected the record:

Walt Stone says:

I believe it was two power plants, one coal and one gas fired.

http://fuelfix.com/blog/2011/02/02/whats-behind-the-blackouts-power-plants-not-designed-for-cold-weather/

Could Watts ever concede a possible error?  Not yet, not on his blog, nor anywhere else.  Texas electric grid officials said early they had coal-fired power plants down; they’ve stuck to that story.  Reporting by the state’s major newspapers and other news organizations has borne out that story.

Continuing their leading reporting on energy and environment issues, the Texas Tribune, an on-line publication by a non-profit group, specifically asked about wind power shortages as alleged by Watts:

TT: Were there problems with wind-power plants needing to be shut down for high winds or icing blades, and also did nuclear plants have any problems?

[Trip] Doggett [CEO of the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)]: I’m not aware of any nuclear plant problems, and I’m not aware of any specific issues with wind turbines having to shut down due to icing. I would highlight that we put out a special word of thanks to the wind community because they did contribute significantly through this time frame. Wind was blowing, and we had often 3,500 megawatts of wind generation during that morning peak, which certainly helped us in this situation.

Is there any room for the wind nay-sayers to squirm on this?

One publication which should be keyed into the facts poked fun at Watts’ hypothesis, although in a subtle, implicit fashion.  Energy Tribune’s story by Philip E. Lewis, comparing Texas to King Canute, noted that Texas has bragged about its energy reliability and separateness from the rest of the state.  What to do in the next energy crisis?

But no worries, I have the perfect solution: Next time power plants are “tripping,” ERCOT (irony alert: Electric Reliability Council of Texas) should issue an order for the wind to blow harder in West Texas. If the wind is reluctant to comply, ERCOT should brook no nonsense and immediately escalate. Surely an order from the governor’s office will do the trick.

Based on little more than antipathy towards wind power, bloggers beginning with Anthony Watts started a hoax rumor that wind power is to blame for Texas’s electricity shortage problems.  Very little  basis could be found for such a claim, and in the days since the events, that little basis is evaporating.  It’s time to put that claim to bed.

Sorta post script:  I am aware of the claims at Meteorological Musings that wind generation is, somehow, to blame — if for no other reason than that it could not play Superman and bring a few thousand megawatts online with no notice to save the rest of the grid.  As best I can cipher it, the claim is that because not every wind generator was on line, wind generators should have been able to take up the slack.  Of course, no other energy source could step in to take up the slack, either, including those who were scheduled to do it.  I don’t put a lot of stock in the claim that we need to be particularly stern with wind generating companies when other generating companies fall down on the job.  For that matter, there is a Reuters article listed at Watts Up that said a wind shortage added to the problems, but it didn’t suggest in any way that a wind shortage caused the problems — and it’s from 2008, not 2011.  I don’t believe problems in 2008 contributed to blackouts in 2011.   I’m also aware that Energy Tribune is hostile to wind generated power.  Testimony contrary to interest . . .

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Tip of the old scrub brush to a commenter named Bryan Brown.


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