Pike River mine re-entry risk 'minimal'

SARAH-JANE O'CONNOR
Last updated 12:46 22/08/2014
Tony Kokshoorn
Supplied
CALL FOR ACTION: Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said that Solid Energy needed to ‘‘accept that the risk of going up that mine 2.3 km is extremely minimal’’.

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Another delay in the Pike River mine re-entry plan has the Greymouth Mayor calling for Solid Energy to get on with the job.

A series of explosions in the underground coal mine in November 2010 killed 29 miners.

For nearly a year their families have been waiting to find out if a plan to enter the mine's tunnel will go ahead.

The victims' families had thought the matter would go before the Solid Energy board by the end of this month, but Solid Energy said the decision has been delayed while other risks were assessed.

The state-owned company declined to comment on what those risks were or a possible time-frame for making a decision.

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said that Solid Energy needed to ''accept that the risk of going up that mine 2.3 kilometres is extremely minimal''.

He understood there could be restrictions requiring two exits in a coal mine, but said ''you're not going in a coal mine . . . you're going up to a sealed area which is solid rock with no methane''.

Following the mine disaster, new legislation was brought in that required underground mines to have two exits accessible by foot.

One of the criticisms of the Royal Commission of Inquiry was that Pike River mine's vertical escape shaft required miners to climb a ladder over 100 metres up the ventilation shaft to escape.

An audit of the route as an emergency exit in 2009 found it would be ''extremely difficult'' in normal circumstances, let alone in an emergency.

Now with the ventilation shaft blocked off, the mine tunnel has only one exit.

The seven-stage re-entry plan started last October. The first three stages, which included plugging the ventilation shaft, drilling new boreholes and exploring the area with a camera, have been completed.

But the next stages, where the tunnel would be plugged with cement foam, inert nitrogen pumped in and the tunnel ventilated, have been put on hold while Solid Energy assessed risks.

Kokshoorn said there was a general consensus that the likelihood of any miners being in that 2.3km stretch was minimal.

''Because we know from reports after the accident that nearly all the miners were in the coal mine, not in the drift.''

There was only about another 400m that had not been searched by camera, but that should be checked for  ''peace of mind of the families'', he said.

''I just think they have gone this far and they have spent so much money, why back off now?''

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Minister of Labour Simon Bridges said that safety was ''paramount'' with the re-entry project, and each stage would be risk assessed by Solid Energy.

''I can understand that the families may be frustrated and disappointed by this development, but ensuring the safety of workers is an absolute bottom line for everyone involved,'' Bridges said.

Solid Energy bought the assets of Pike River Coal in 2012 but had no connection with the mine when 29 miners were killed in an explosion on November 19, 2010. Two men survived the blast.

- The Press

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