This aerial photo taken on November 30, 2010, shows the second drilling platform of the Pike River Mine, near Greymouth on New Zealand’s West Coast.
This aerial photo taken on November 30, 2010, shows the second drilling platform of the Pike River Mine, near Greymouth on New Zealand’s West Coast. IAIN MCGREGOR

Solid Energy says Pike River Mine will not be re-entered

SOLID Energy will not re-enter the Pike River Mine because the company has deemed the risks to life remain too high.

Board Chair Pip Dunphy made the announcement this morning after a meeting with Prime Minister John Key in Greymouth.

"We know this decision will be very disappointing to the family members and friends of the men who died in the mine," Ms Dunphy said. "However any further loss of life in this mine is unacceptable and any possibility of other families having to go through what the Pike families have suffered is not something our board can support."

Families of the 29 miners lost in the explosions, which began on November 19, 2010, had predicted the decision and asked supporters to protest outside the meeting this morning.

Has Solid Energy made the right decision? Have your say.

Ms Dunphy said following the Solid Energy board reaching its decision about the drift project, the board has decided to surrender the Pike River Mining Permit.

She said the next steps are a matter for discussion with the Government.

Ms Dunphy said Solid Energy had been tasked with developing a re-entry plan that was technically feasible, financially credible and safe.

"In doing so, we have undertaken a rigorous risk assessment process supported by input from independent technical advisors. Safety has been our primary focus throughout. Despite our best endeavours we have been unable to reach a level of confidence that any re-entry plan can adequately protect the lives of those who would undertake the work.

"Our analysis shows that, despite every effort to control or eliminate risks to life, there remain a number of potentially fatal risk factors."

Solid Energy said these included:

- Risks associated with deterioration in the conditions inside the mine. For example it is impossible to rule out some degree of significant fire-related damage to parts of the roof and the associated potential for collapse.

- Risks associated with managing and maintaining gas and ventilation in an environment compromised by difficult terrain, unpredictable weather and unreliable services and infrastructure including electricity supply.

- Risks associated with the sheer complexity of implementing 600+ risk control activities, where failure of one or more controls due to human error or events outside of our control could have fatal consequences.

- Entrapment, for example as a result of roof fall or vehicle fire.

Ms Dunphy said these were all foreseeable risks, which escalate as the distance from the portal increases because of the distance to safety. "Ultimately, we need to be able to rescue people if they became trapped. That would require us to be able to communicate to determine where along the 2.3km drift the entrapment occurred and be able to sustain life whilst drilling a rescue shaft.

"In recent successful rescues the location of trapped personnel was accurately known. They had to wait while a small diameter hole was bored to enable life to be sustained and then a large diameter bore hole was drilled, through which rescue was achieved. In this instance, there is no guarantee we would be able to do any of these things. The terrain alone is too steep and makes it impossible to site a drill rig of the size needed to facilitate recovery," she said.

Earlier, there were calls of 'shame' as the Prime Minister arrived in Greymouth for a face to face meeting with Pike River families.

The families were called to the meeting by mine owner Solid Energy to discuss the possibility of re-entering the mine, nearly four years since the explosion which killed 29 men.

Ashen-faced family members entered the meeting armed with pictures of their loved ones with yellow ribbons pinned to their clothes.

Bernie Monk brought with him a box of files ready to argue against the expected claims from Solid Energy that a re-entry operation isn't feasible.

A small group of protestors also gathered outside the meeting, playing music and holding signs demanding re-entry to Pike River.

- additional reporting Newstalk ZB


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