Expert says Pike River still unsafe

January 17th, 2011 at 7:10 am by David Farrar

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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45 Responses to “Expert says Pike River still unsafe”

  1. kunst5 (51 comments) says:

    Why not honor the people of Greymonth and spend the millions of inquiry dollars, construction a safe and decent future – building “The Pike River Aqua Centre” and businesses involved in fresh water in stead of destroying peoples and other life ? Why not go and brand for a “100%NZpure Economy” in stead of dirty coal, dirty waters – a dirty planet ? Why not make real money in our economy Minister Brownlee ?

    April 2010 West Virginia US coal mine disaster. Why not learn Minister Brownlee – why didn’t you stop Pike River ?
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36183425/ns/us_news-life/
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/25/west-virginia-mine-investigation-methane_n_694787.html
    Why not add real value to our economy and our Kiwi workforce ?
    Why spend millions of $ for enquiry when we all know the government (Supervisonry authority) disregarded safety issues ?

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  2. Caleb (479 comments) says:

    and this is a mine that produces medium amounts of methane.

    hopefully the enquiry is not a whitewash…

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  3. AG (1,830 comments) says:

    Anyone else hear the lawyer for the miners’ families muckraking on National Radio this morning? He suggested that the decision not to continue with the recovery effort would mean that evidence important for the Royal Commission might not be recovered. What an absolutely disgusting suggestion – right?
    Or is it only bad when members of the Labour Party say it?

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  4. vto (1,131 comments) says:

    Sounds like a backdown there on your part Farrar (or preparation for).

    There is one link between events that will show Farrar and Key to be fools in blindly backing their chosen ones and that is the plan for the mine. It will be sold. And that will be because mining experts and investors know, right now, that the mine can be cleared, re-entered and mned again. As such, so too can the bodies be recovered. And Key promised “whatever it takes”.

    Or if Key and Farrar are correct and the mine can never be opened then there will be no mine to sell.

    Wont the receivers plan be interesting …

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  5. jims_whare (403 comments) says:

    Im not sure why they want to go in there – wouldn’t everything human be dust and ashes by now? It would be nice but surely a 3 month long coal fire plus several explosions wont leave a lot to find.

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  6. KiwiGreg (3,259 comments) says:

    “If, and I stress if, that is all that is required to make the mine safe, then the price is well worth paying. ”

    Why? and by whom?

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  7. dog_eat_dog (789 comments) says:

    It’s pretty natural for the mine to be sold, there’s was barely enough capital in NZ to open it, let alone rebuild an obviously hugely risky asset.

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  8. BeaB (2,142 comments) says:

    If the mine is economic to re-open, it will be. That is, if there’s anyone left who still wants to invest their money in NZ.

    In the meantime, we can watch the Aussies race ahead of us – now with our miners, builders and engineers.

    However, we can comfort ourselves with the thought that all our mineral wealth is safely locked away from those nasty people who want them to make our cars, TVs and cell phones.

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  9. tristanb (1,127 comments) says:

    “If, and I stress if, that is all that is required to make the mine safe, then the price is well worth paying. ”

    Why? and by whom?

    By our socialist government of course – it’s great publicity for John Key. Our government seems to be socialising a lot of private business costs this last 2-3 years.

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  10. vto (1,131 comments) says:

    Hey BeaB, see if you can come up with a way to race up with the aussies economically that does not involve an extraction industry such as farming or mining…

    just as an exercise you know. because the only way this currnt govt seems to think we can do it is by extracting from the environment and adding straight to the dinner table. Just wondering whether there exists such a plan. Or even any ideas??..

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  11. grumpyoldhori (2,362 comments) says:

    AG A royal commission, why do I have this vision of cans of white wash being ready for the so called commission.

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  12. vto (1,131 comments) says:

    tristanb, that is correct. For example, costs associated with farming are paid for by taxpayers and ratepayers by way of cleaning up rivers and lakes that the farmers have taken for their dump sites. Similarly, every time there is a flood or drought (a known business risk for farmers) they come rushing to the taxpayer to bludge a handout. This government without doubt indulges in selective socialism.

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  13. bhudson (4,740 comments) says:

    vto,

    The key is to reverse the decision not to redesignate those small tracts of conservation land and get the diggers out. There are billions in them thar hills and you have to question the priorities and motivations of people who would sacrifice the economic wellbeing (which also means social wellbeing – the money for the programs you love has to come from somewhere) of the nation for the sake of a tiny percentage of conservation land.

    Those same people (I am sure) complain about the lack of social spending and failing economic performance.

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  14. Courage Wolf (557 comments) says:

    AG (999) Says:

    January 17th, 2011 at 7:58 am

    Anyone else hear the lawyer for the miners’ families muckraking on National Radio this morning? He suggested that the decision not to continue with the recovery effort would mean that evidence important for the Royal Commission might not be recovered. What an absolutely disgusting suggestion – right?

    Or is it only bad when members of the Labour Party say it?

    So true. 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 no depth to which they won’t let themselves descend to. This really is a new low in disgusting and crassness. One could almost see them celebrating the news the mine could not be entered safely, thinking “yay we can try and slime John Key with this”.

    http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2011/01/pike_river_likely_to_be_sealed.html

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  15. tom hunter (5,075 comments) says:

    I can’t argue about the government effectively indulging in “handouts” to farmers when they hit drought problems. Were it up to me the government would come up with some types of income smoothing mechanisms – perhaps some income shelter/fund they could put money into tax-free, with legal restrictions allowing them to dip into the fund only for a specific range of purposes.

    With floods it’s a bit different. Everybody gets bailed out by the government when hit by floods, in the same way as earthquakes. Of course there probably should be some restrictions on that – in the sense of making things more expensive for specific tax/insurance where people knowingly choose to live in a place that’s going to be regularly hit with floods, although the same argument could be made for droughts.

    As far as lakes and rivers being “dump sites”, that’s emotive rhetoric designed to make one group look like bad guys. That’s SOP for political arguments of course but I’d be interested to see some links to specific costs that have been involved in “cleaning up” these rivers and lakes, or are we talking about the usual council slush fund that allocates rates in response to some “public” (read pressure group) outcry but which is never spent on any actual cleanup?

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  16. BeaB (2,142 comments) says:

    vto Like bhudson I think it is crazy to lock all these minerals away when they are a tiny fraction of our wilderness and conservation lands. Even if they were a larger portion, we should make the most of our resources while the rest of the world needs them. There will be cold comfort for our grandchildren in knowing no-one wants the coal we have hoarded away.
    As for other measures we could take – brighter minds than mind haven’t come up with many ideas for us to catch up with our smarter neighbour.
    But until we become smarter ourselves then using the resources we do have in such adundance to maintain and even boost our standard of living seems sensible to me. And, who knows, keeping more of us out of the poverty trap may lead to more ideas, more entrepreneurs, more jobs, more exports, more wealth for us all.

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  17. Barnsley Bill (983 comments) says:

    They should dig in from the top (which was the smartest solution in the first place). Labour and the unions should STFU. It was their conservation minister who decreed that if there was to be mining it should be as costly and risky as possible.
    Chris Carters role in all this has been conveniently forgotten.
    Total disregard for what the coasters wanted.

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  18. RightNow (6,995 comments) says:

    AG – I believe the families of the miners and their lawyer have a genuine desire for more effort to be made to get those remains out based on even a sliver of hope, and I don’t think anyone is critical of them for that desire.
    It’s when certain other people try to use this for political capital that I throw up in my mouth A Little.

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  19. thedavincimode (6,867 comments) says:

    B Bill

    You first mate. I suggest you put your smoke out beforehand.

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  20. BeaB (2,142 comments) says:

    I do hope the miners’ families know exactly what kind of costs they could be up for with a QC and a lawyer acting for them. They won’t get legal aid at this stage and as a donor myself I wouldn’t be too happy with funds given to help families being eaten up in legal bills.
    They were keen to have a Royal Commission, they got one, and there’s no indication that Justice Pankhurst will be improperly influenced so I am not quite sure why they have gone down this path.

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  21. vto (1,131 comments) says:

    Rightnow, how is the miners union using it for political capital to question these recent decisions? It is the bloody miners union ffs. They were miners that were killed and this is precisely what unions are for. Mr Little was entirely within bounds – in fact so much so that if he had not expressed such sentiments in these circumstances then he would just about be deemed negligent.

    and tom hunter, describing the rivers and lakes as dump sites is not emotive rhetoric it is an accurate description. (e.g. I used to hose the shed directly into the creek myself. The creek was where the shit got dumped.). These dump sites have still not been cleaned up. Still waiting.

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  22. KevinH (1,236 comments) says:

    Building a twin tunnel beside the existing one is a possibility, existing on site assets could be reused, and capital for the new tunnel would be forthcoming considering the wealth underneath.
    Tunnelling in from the top is not an option, there is a rather large mountain made of hard rock in the way.
    It is regretable that the Police are to wind down there recovery operation, it is an entirely pragmatic decision to desist when a result is unlikely.
    Best wishes to the families at this difficult time, the authorities tried their best.

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  23. vto (1,131 comments) says:

    KevinH, you have written in this manner before on this matter. Sound like you have a role to play.

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  24. BeaB (2,142 comments) says:

    vto We all have a role to play and one of them is to use our brains. As a taxpayer, my role is to be certain our money isn’t being wasted on a fruitless and expensive attempt to recover who knows what.
    I am also sure that the experts the Commission will hear from will be able to identify the causes of the disaster and, in fact, probably can right now.
    I have a problem with Andy Pandy because my first question is always, ‘Who is the messenger?’.
    In his case, we never know – union leader, Labour Party President, political candidate seeking publicity? All of the above?
    His comments are always dubious because of his mixed motives.

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  25. RightNow (6,995 comments) says:

    vto – I’m more than comfortable with the miners union paying for further recovery efforts. Perhaps they can sell the union officials’ HSV’s to help pay the cost. Or is the main role of a union these days simply to mouth off at the government?

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  26. thedavincimode (6,867 comments) says:

    vto

    “I used to hose the shed directly into the creek myself. The creek was where the shit got dumped.). These dump sites have still not been cleaned up. Still waiting.”

    You helped put it there. Get a shovel and get cracking.

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  27. vto (1,131 comments) says:

    I think the role of a miners union when miners are killed at work is pretty obvious rightnow. And who in that union should voice concerns of it members at such a time BeaB? The tea lady perhaps?

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  28. BeaB (2,142 comments) says:

    As long as the message is from the miners’ union for the good of the miners I have no problem. Please read my post above to understand the problem of Andrew Little as I see it.
    Rather than the tea lady (such a quaint, old-fashioned idea) there might be someone who can actually speak for the miners rather than leave the suspicion this is an opportunity for self-serving publicity.

    I am still concerned that the families understand the legal costs they might be facing.

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  29. thedavincimode (6,867 comments) says:

    BeaB, didn’t Key indicate that there would be financial assistance for the families in being represented at the Commission? Although it doesn’t follow that what is happening now is part of that.

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  30. unaha-closp (1,179 comments) says:

    As a total aside:

    to say it was safe to enter was a “quantum leap”.

    Doesn’t that mean the smallest leap ever possible to make?

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  31. adze (2,129 comments) says:

    “to say it was safe to enter was a “quantum leap”.

    Doesn’t that mean the smallest leap ever possible to make?”

    Walking the Planck?

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  32. Paulus (2,656 comments) says:

    I am waiting to see the names of the Volunteers to enter the mine as I heard on radio this morning from the miners’ local spokesperson and lawyer that it is safe.

    Mallard, Little and CTU Kelly should be first to Volunteer.

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  33. bhudson (4,740 comments) says:

    As to vto’s earlier comment about the mine being sold. Far from being a bad thing, it is the best chance of recovering the remains of the miners.

    Any purchaser will take on the risk of failing to manage to reopen the mine, balanced against a reduced purchase value and, quite possibly, a reduction in royalties or other incentives from govt to encourage the purchase.

    This would be the best result all round: recovery of remains and continued mining operations, including local employment.

    (Not to mention continued tax revenue from those operations and employment, along with the remap of public risk and expense for continued recovery options, which might ultimately prove fruitless in any event – I place these comments in parentheses as asides – I didn’t want to note them at first as they seem a little cold and almost inappropriate given he circumstances. They do, however, form part of the full picture as to why sale of the mine is the best possible outcome right now.)

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  34. vto (1,131 comments) says:

    Yes well I agree largely bhudson. But my point was that Key and Farrar’s shrill noise about the mine being closed and further attempt at recovery being impossible could not be believed as the full truth, given the interest shown in the mine by potential purchasers (who of course need to re-enter and know right now that it will be possible at some point. Key would know this).

    It will be interesting to see what the receiver has to say today, being not bound by politics and its requirement for deception as are Key and Farrar.

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  35. kunst5 (51 comments) says:

    In addition to my first article on top of that issue:

    As link and this interview confirms, Minister Brownlee, obviously you did have enough information about the danger of coal mining – why didn’t you stop Pike River for a serious inquiry for safety – protecting NZworkers ???

    Furthermore documents clearly show time/ money stress about the company http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/BU0902/S00539.htm.

    Sufficient evidences leading to the disaster and not reacting before, clearly indicate your incompetence. As the PM – a minister not performing to a high standard would not have a place in my cabinet.

    GUYON I guess everyone’s wise in hindsight, but if I look back to a speech Gerry Brownlee made in 2009, he talked about Pike River Coal carrying out exploration work on the coal seam gas potential of that mine, and he talked about it potentially looking at establishing small-scale on-site electricity generation from the methane, so obviously there was a recognition that there was a lot of gas in that area. Let’s cut to the chase – is there a ministerial responsibility issue here, either for Gerry Brownlee or for the Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson on this?
    JOHN Again, the questions will need to be asked – and they’re appropriate questions, we’re not trying to hide from that – but my top-line view would be no. We follow advice, and to the best of my knowledge we haven’t crossed that advice and done something different. Gerry Brownlee’s comments would simply be a reflection of the fact that it’s well known that there’s methane in that area, and there’s always methane in coal mining, and I don’t think that’s a new revelation.
    GUYON No, it’s not, but that’s part of the point, isn’t it? I mean, 1967 when the big disaster happened in Strongman Mine. It’s not that long ago, is it, in some ways. Did we forget the lessons of history to a degree here?
    JOHN I don’t think so. We’ve moved on. I mean, if you think about Strongman, 43 years on I think most New Zealanders would rightfully expect – I certainly, as prime minister, would expect – that we’re now engaging modern techniques for the monitoring of methane, modern safety techniques. I mean, the world has moved on rapidly. In 1967 when Strongman took place, there wouldn’t have been a camera sitting at the entry portal into the mine; there wouldn’t have been all those techniques and computerised technology that we now have. So I can’t tell you what’s gone terribly wrong at Pike River. I know something, tragically, has gone wrong, and I know methane levels have to be above a level where they’re combustible and something’s ignited that. But what’s caused the build-up and what caused the explosion are matters for the Royal Commission. But what I do know is we have to get answers to those.
    Full interview : http://tvnz.co.nz/q-and-a-news/q-interview-john-key-3921795

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  36. RightNow (6,995 comments) says:

    kunst5, I think you’re reading a bit more into that interview transcript than is reasonable. If you’re suggesting that the presence of enough methane to produce electricity is evidence in itself of unacceptable risks, then perhaps it’s also time to close down Wellington’s Southern Landfill, where electricity has been generated from methane since 2008
    http://www.wellington.govt.nz/news/display-item.php?id=3186

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  37. kunst5 (51 comments) says:

    Rightnow, I think after so many cases and dead it is a little bit naïve to make the comparison.

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  38. tom hunter (5,075 comments) says:

    and tom hunter, describing the rivers and lakes as dump sites is not emotive rhetoric it is an accurate description. (e.g. I used to hose the shed directly into the creek myself. The creek was where the shit got dumped.). These dump sites have still not been cleaned up. Still waiting.

    Is that so? Well, when our farm was converted into a dairy unit the local Waikato council bylaws demanded that we build two oxidation ponds to treat the crap that came out of the shed before it entered the creek – and that was back in the Triassic era.

    Perhaps your council was just exceptionally useless, but it’s difficult to believe that any of them have been like that in the last twenty years.

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  39. vto (1,131 comments) says:

    Sure, things no longer happen quite like that tom hunter. However, I would bet a dollar that your two oxidation ponds take nothing like all the shit that is required to be taken out in order that what you flush into the creek is the same as what you took out of the creek (or bore), so that you don’t in fact use the creek as a dump site.

    You still use it as a dump site. Happy to be proved wrong but aint been yet.

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  40. Sector 7g (242 comments) says:

    To anyone who is interested. The fire has only been burning inside the mine at certain areas. The camera footage that they have from the back of the mine shows that fire has not been throughout. This of course means that the bodies of the miners in this area (around 20) are untouched and i believe they should be given more of a chance to be returned to their families.

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  41. Pete George (23,677 comments) says:

    Presumably the high temperatures would have spread throughout the mine. Any idea what affect that would have had? Wasn’t it 1000 degrees?

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  42. tom hunter (5,075 comments) says:

    You still use it as a dump site. Happy to be proved wrong but aint been yet.

    Proved wrong? That’s a rather silly statement given that we’re all dogs on the internet and there is no way I can prove that I’m not doing that – anymore than you can prove your somewhat fantastical claim.

    See, this really is classic eco-stupidity, that you assume that nothing would change. As it happens I was never happy about the oxidation ponds either, which is why I destroyed them over a decade ago and replaced them with a moving irrigator that spreads the shit straight on to the paddocks – just like the cows do – and all without being told to by a government regulator.

    Because I care about the environment. :)

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  43. Nigel (517 comments) says:

    They are giving up to quick I believe, there are alot of people in there and choosing to pull the pin in a period where bad news tends to not cause to much political carnage appears gutless, the costs are relatively minor, we should follow the south American example and not give up ( yes they are dead, but still giving up is not good ).

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  44. Swampy (191 comments) says:

    @KevinH tunnelling from the top IS an option its been done several times at Pike already and is routine world wide infact most mines developed that way=

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  45. kunst5 (51 comments) says:

    Considering my 2 articles above I find this statement below unbelievable.
    18th of January 2011
    Mr Brownlee says despite those stable gas readings, the atmosphere in the mine is still not safe to breathe and could change rapidly
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10700418

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