The news of two miners who were killed and 20 others injured in Ouray on Nov. 17 sent shockwaves through the state.
The blast caused people to wonder how such a mining catastrophe could occur in 2013.
Within hours, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration were on site at the Revenue-Virginius Mine, located in southwestern Colorado. The hard rock mine is closed while the investigation continues.
“We feel great sympathy for the people in Ouray,” said Jane Mannon, manager of community affairs for the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company. “Anytime we get a report of something like this we always try to learn from it”
With 508 employees, CC&V is the largest mining operation in the state. About 250,000 ounces of gold is taken from the open pit mine annually.
The risks associated with open pit mining are considerably less than they were 100 years ago when miners were lowered into shafts; sometimes up to 1,000 feet.
“A mining disaster like the one in Ouray causes people to refocus,” Mannon said. “You think about `Can I go home safely tonight.’
“Our No. 1 concern is safety and we take that very seriously.”
CC&V employees are required to take an 8-hour refresher course on safety every year. When a mining employee is first hired, they are required to take 24 hours of safety training.
“Slips, trips and falls are the majority of the things we deal with,” Mannon said.
CC&V has been in business since 1976.
The last fatal accident at the mine was on March 23, 1993, when Harry Marsteiner was killed on a truck in the pit.
“My dad Harry Marsteiner was driving a Euclid Water truck. It looked like one of their 85 ton haul trucks but modified to haul water to wet the roads to keep dust down. He was driving the truck down into the Cresson Pit when the brakes failed. All attempts to stop the truck failed, so he called in on the radio that he would have to jump from the truck. The cab sits about 18 feet of the ground with a small walkway around it. He had to exit the cab, make his way across the walkway and then jump from 18 feet up while the truck was moving at a high rate of speed. As he did so, he lost his balance due to the motion of the truck and fell from the walkway and underneath the tires. If you have seen the haul trucks, you know how large these tires are... about 12 feet high if I am estimating correctly. The tires ran over his head and he was killed instantly,” said Jason Marsteiner, his son, who was 17 at the time.
“Yes, Mr Marsteiner was killed in a water truck accident in March of 1993 at the Ironclad mine,” confirmed Jane Mannon, after reviewing records.
Initally, the mine did not recall the Marstiener incident.
“My frame of reference for our safety record was the beginning of large scale surface mining in 1995. I should have been more clear. I’m not aware of this incident, but I’m sure that the community memory of a tragedy like this is much longer than our paper records or corporate memory. I mean no disrespect and will do my best to find anything I can,” Mannon said.
MERCO Minerals was the owner at the time, and they wore working on the Ironclad/Globe Hill project. According to a state safety records narrative, “the victim (Harry Marsteiner) was fatally injured when he either jumped or was thrown from the driver side access platform of the truck during a runaway.”
“I want them to tell the current miners about the accident so that they are aware of the dangers and hopefully prevent it from happening to anyone else. I would like to see some sort of memorial set up so that this will never be forgotten again,” said Jason Marsteiner.
Mannon also indentified another accident.
“We had a contractor pass away on the site four years ago, but he had a preexisting health condition,” Mannon said.
If you go to the CC&V web site, you will find a comprehensive breakdown of the mine’s safety and health guidelines.
Many of the issues associated with the historic Revenue-Virginius mine are not a concern for CC&V. The biggest is carbon monoxide poisoning, which was the cause of death of the two miners who were killed on Nov. 17.
“The Mine Safety and Health Administration is a very strong regulatory body,” Mannon said. “They take things seriously.”
The Revenue-Virginius mine is located near Yankee Boy Basin, 6.9 miles southwest of Ouray, above the Camp Bird Mine, and below the Ruby Trust. Star Mine Operations LLC, a subsidiary of the Denver-based private mining company Silver Star Resources.
Silver Star obtained a mining permit for the Revenue-Virginius in February 2013 to mine silver, gold and sulfide minerals from vein deposits on patented mining claims purchased under a lease agreement by the company in 2011.
According to the Colorado Mining Association web site, the Colorado’s mining industry directly employs 12,000 persons in the mining industry and generates more than 46,000 jobs in related industries such as engineering, consulting, finance, transportation, geotechnical and utility services, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
Colorado ranks sixth among all states in mineral royalty receipts.