Expert says Pike River still unsafe

Keith Lynch in The Press reports:

A “marked improvement” in the atmosphere in the mine does not mean it is safe to re-enter, an Australian expert says.

Yesterday, the families of the 29 mine workers released a statement saying the decision to seal the Pike River Coal mine was wrong and needed to be revisited.

“There is a stable atmospheric environment now achieved which is likely to be sustained,” the statement said.

Mine safety expert Dr David Cliff, of the University of Queensland, said that while the atmosphere in the West Coast mine had improved, to say it was safe to enter was a “quantum leap”.

Personally I’d love it if the mine could be entered, but I am not an expert, and you really have to rely on expert advice on these things.

“The atmosphere is now inert without the use of the GAG [Gorniczy Agregat Gasniczy],” Cliff said.

“It’s not capable of supporting combustion. It’s full of methane, as far as we can detect.

“But then to say everything is OK, we can go enter the mine, that’s another quantum leap beyond that.”

The mine’s atmosphere was close to 100 per cent methane, with oxygen excluded, he said.

“Therefore it’s a dramatic improvement. There’s no active ignition sources in the mine, most probably, but we still don’t know for sure.”

If conditions were maintained, there would be “no more explosions”, Cliff said.

“The atmosphere is one part of the equation – there’s the mining conditions, it is the logistics of re-entering up a single tunnel that is 2.5-kilometres long into unknown conditions – these are the sort of factors bearing on people’s minds.”

Bore holes would be required to stabilise the mine, at a cost of $250,000 each.

If, and I stress if, that is all that is required to make the mine safe, then the price is well worth paying. However it is not at all clear that is all that is required.

I do have to say that the reasons the mine can’t be re-entered according to the experts has not been clearly communicated. Hopefully when the receivers submit their plans tonight, there might be more light on this.

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