Receivers get cracking at Pike River

NEW Zealand Police have officially handed control of the Pike River Coal mine over to the company’s receivers. PricewaterhouseCoopers partner John Fisk discusses the next recovery steps and plans to seek expressions of interest in the assets.

Blair Price

The mine handover was announced by police on January 13 and took place yesterday, involving lawyers swapping signed documents.

“All that it means is that we are now responsible for the activity at the site, so there is an extra burden on us as receivers to ensure that things are done properly,” Fisk told ILN.

The receivers have put in place risk management procedures and many of the same mine safety experts will remain on a panel to provide technical assistance for the mine stabilisation plan.

On the conditions at the mine, Fisk said gas readings still showed methane levels of around 95% of the underground atmosphere in most places and added that “very small” quantities of oxygen were also present.

He said there were other parts of the mine where there was a lot of nitrogen.

Teams are continuing to pump inert nitrogen underground using the portable Floxal unit provided by Air Liquide.

The expensive-to-run GAG inertisation unit, a modified jet engine, has not been used for months.

“We are looking at getting that sent back to Australia in the next sort of week or so.”

Underground temperatures are also continuing to cool down.

The Western Australian Water Corporation sent over its tunnel inspection vehicle last year but this was diverted to Christchurch to help out after the recent earthquake.

Fisk said it was being flown out yesterday and might be sent into the portal of the Pike River mine either on the weekend or early next week.

The remote-operated, skid-steered vehicle has eight cameras, a gas detector and a microphone, and unlike the bomb disposal robots previously sent in last year, can handle getting wet.

The Pike receiver is hoping the machine can provide some video footage of the damage in the drift.

The machine is designed to travel up to 4 kilometres down a tunnel, but it might have difficulties getting around the load haul dump some 1400 metres into the mine.

Pike River survivor Daniel Rockhouse was thrown off the LHD by the force of the first underground explosion in November and this machine is believed to be in the middle of the roadway.

Fisk has not seen the tunnel inspection vehicle, but said it “apparently” had a separate, smaller and “expendable” robot which could be launched off it to get past obstacles.

While there is still a lot more work to go into advancing insurance claims, Fisk did provide an update on plans to possibly sell the mine.

A number of parties had made unsolicited approaches and the receivers were working to get all the information together to make it available under a formal process.

“The next stage will be planning a timetable for a sales process, so that hasn’t been finalised yet.”

But hopefully these plans could be embarked upon fairly soon, Fisk said.

“We would like to establish what interest is there as soon as we can.”

Pike owes around $NZ64 million ($A46.6 million) in loans to its biggest shareholder, New Zealand Oil & Gas.

The receivers were appointed on December 13, with Pike holding a $NZ10.9 million cash position at the time.

PwC has previously said it does not expect the $NZ31.9 million of unsecured creditors to have their claims met, with unsecured trade creditors totalling $NZ15.4 million.

This week the Pike River Disaster Relief Trust is reportedly expected to start making payments of up to $NZ190,000 to each family of the 29 men killed in the mining tragedy last year.

The trust will also pay another $NZ15,000 for every dependent child of the men, with the money to be paid into long-term family trusts, according to Radio New Zealand.

The disaster trust raised around $NZ7 million.

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