DOC red tape had no impact on mine safety'

Last updated 05:00 24/11/2010
Pike River Coal mine
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax Media Zoom
SHOCK: Shortly after family members were told of the second explosion at the Pike River mine.
Joseph Ray Dunbar
JOSEPH RAY DUNBAR: 17, Greymouth. The youngest of the miners. The day of the explosion was his first day working underground.

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Environmental concerns did not compromise safety at the Pike River mine, Conservation Department director-general Al Morrison says.

"We set stringent conditions and they met them to the extent that we gave them a conservation award. But our involvement ... it was principally about access and then what was done around the site – once they start boring into the mountain, it's not really us."

Nor were environmental concerns foremost when the mine rescue mission started and an access road needed to be built, Mr Morrison said.

"There was just no question, that's what you do. Nobody stopped to think about red tape."

Mr Morrison said pests, such as possums and stoats, did more damage to conservation land than mining. "They [pests] simply lay the place to waste over huge areas."

The Pike River mine had to navigate sensitive environmental challenges above the ground, as well as difficult geology below.

The prize was access to the Brunner seam of high-quality coal and, deeper, the Paparoa seam.

Pike River Coal was granted a mining permit for a block of land that includes part of Paparoa National Park. The mine does not impinge on the national park, but lies on public conservation land.

The company has an access agreement with DOC. Once mining has finished, all evidence of the project has to be removed, such as buildings, bridges and powerlines.

Pike River Coal has spent millions of dollars to meet environmental guidelines. It recycles water, has kept its surface features to a minimum and has zig-zagged powerlines and roads around ancient rimu trees.

The mine company says it uses only eight hectares of DOC land but oversees extensive pest and predator control programmes over 1300 hectares in the local catchment area. It also runs a whio (blue duck) enhancement programme.

In a letter to investors in May, during the debate on more mineral prospecting on conservation land, the company's chief executive at the time, Gordon Ward, held up Pike River as an example of what could be achieved.

"In fact, New Zealand has an opportunity to be a world leader in developing `green mines'. Our mine at Pike River proves that it can be done."

It was likely any new mines would be underground, he said.

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"In such cases the surface impact is small, the infrastructure is removed at the end of mining and the small areas affected are restored. On the small areas affected, trees grow back."

Mining companies had to lodge "significant cash bonds" and insurances to ensure DOC and the public were protected from any environmental concerns during the mine's life and subsequent restoration work.

When Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee opened the Pike River mine almost two years ago, he said the project was a "carefully crafted marriage of good mining practice and environmental good management".

He said no trucks would be used to carry coal down the mountain, reducing noise and dust, and that the mine's surface footprint had been kept to a minimum.

- The Press

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