The Coalition Government has approved a further $14 million to the Pike River mine recovery attempt to take the total spend up to $36 M, and some observers have indicated more may be required.
On Wednesday Pike River Re-entry Minister Andrew Little said the Pike River Recovery Agency has recommended entering the drift of the damaged coal mine near Greymouth using the existing access tunnel as “by far the safest option.”
“I’ve been considering the re-entry recommendations, risk assessments and information provided by the Pike River Recovery Agency, along with input from independent advisor, Rob Fyfe (former CEO of Air New Zealand).
“The re-entry method I have approved is the simplest and safest plan.
Little said experts from around the world have spent months examining details of all the risks pertaining to each option.
“The planned method of re-entry will be made safe through the use of controls, in line with mining standards around the world.”
In November 2010 the Pike River coal mine, with only a single access decline, suffered a massive methane blast and 29 men were entombed in the mine. Two others, who were closer to surface managed to escape.
But the mine rescue was placed in the hands of police with no skills in mine safety or rescue, and mine rescue groups from other mines and mining professionals were excluded from assisting.
At that time the mine safety regime in New Zealand had been emasculated and left in the hands of the Department of Labour and there was only one active mines inspector operating in the country.
Little said the NZ Police is closely involved in the operation. With their support and advice the drift tunnel will be thoroughly examined through to the roof fall area.
“Work to prepare the mine drift for re-entry is underway, and includes venting methane from the mine, pumping nitrogen into the mine, and then filling the drift with fresh air. Additional boreholes have to be drilled and this work will get under way immediately,” Little said.
Little and the police have talked of potential charges being laid on mine safety negligence but for industry people who have been down several mines, and encountered mining disasters, the suggestion of new evidence being found for charges sounds spurious.
The newstalkZB radio and website service interviewed experienced NZ geologist Dr Murray Cave who said while expectations had been raised with families of the men lost, the recovery of bodies was still a long shot.
Dr Cave believed bodies of miners are within the mine not in the drift, and behind a major rockfall.
He said after Solid Energy had purchased the man following the disastrous blast which closed operations, it undertook a study to get past the mine drift to where the bodies may be but found this too dangerous.
(Solid Energy then relinquished the mine lease).
Dr Cave said that to go past the mine drift there would be a range of obstacles including abandoned robots, and perhaps having to go a “couple of kilometres further.” He said a staged approach would have to go through the current seal, put in another seal and then another seal and it will be expensive.
NewstalkZB said the drift was understood to be 2.3 kilometres long and it was expected most if not all the bodies would be behind the rockfall.
Murray Cave said there is high methane in the drift is 100% and while not flammable but could become so when up to 30% air is introduced. The plan was to resolve problems by pumping in nitrogen but there was no evidence “that it can get rid of all methane.”
Mayor of Greymouth, Tony Kokshoorn, also interviewed by NewstalkZB, understood this re-entry was going to the rockfall area and may not be able to venture past that. This, he said, could provide evidence of bodies and that may satisfy some of the Pike families that the Government has given the quest its best shot.