Pike recovery might take weeks

THE recovery effort at the Pike River coal mine has faced a further setback after a fire at the mine entrance this morning prevented the deployment of the GAG unit to inert the atmosphere underground.
Pike recovery might take weeks Pike recovery might take weeks Pike recovery might take weeks Pike recovery might take weeks Pike recovery might take weeks

Underground at Pike River before the explosions hit the mine this month. Image courtesy of PRC.

Blair Price

Polyurethane foam used to seal the mine self combusted, but work will resume once the entrance cools down, according to the New Zealand Herald.

Sealing of the mine was reportedly 90% complete, while yesterday’s blaze further inside has been extinguished.

Black smoke and flames were rising up to 40 metres out of the ventilation shaft yesterday, with footage captured by a television crew in a helicopter.

Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall said the “initial feed” of the fire was most likely coal which came from a roof collapse in the mine, according to TVNZ.

Radio New Zealand reported Whittall as saying that workers were nearing the last stages of sealing the mine using shotcrete this morning.

But he also told the radio station it might take several weeks of monitoring, along with several goes with the GAG, before teams could be sent into the mine.

The GAG unit brought over by Queensland Mines Rescue Services is basically a jet engine which can overwhelm any fires and explosive gases underground with nitrogen, carbon dioxide and water vapour.

QMRS state manager Wayne Hartley previously told ILN it could take 4-6 hours to inert the Pike River mine the first time.

While the recovery effort aims to retrieve the bodies of the 29 miners lost after the first explosion more than a week ago, the severe temperatures inside could have vapourised remains.

The total gas explosion count at the mine has reached five.

Gas levels could fuel more explosions.

Royal Commission of Inquiry

Pike chairman John Dow responded to the Royal Commission of Inquiry announced by NZ Prime Minister John Key yesterday.

“We welcome whatever inquiries are needed to find the cause of the explosion and also what is required to ensure the safe operation of our mine in the future.”

“The commission’s draft terms of reference include consideration of a wider range of issues relevant to our industry and it is the appropriate place to do that. Pike will also assist the commission with these issues.

“We are committed to determining if our mine can reopen. Whether that requires an answer to all of the matters the Royal Commission will address is unknown at this time. The other enquiries by the police, the Department of Labour and the coroner are focussed on Pike and they may give us the information that we need. It’s speculation now to say any more.”

One likely result of the Pike River mine disaster is an overhaul of the country’s safety regimes for underground coal mining.

Solid Energy takes Pike stockpiles

Solid, the dominant coal producer in the country, has agreed to buy 20,000 tonnes of Pike’s stockpiled coal, which is not enough for an export shipment.

“The terms of this sale will see Pike receive full net market value for this hard coking coal once on-sold to an end-user customer,” Dow said.

“This action by Solid Energy is just another aspect of the extraordinary support that Pike River has had from the management and staff of Solid Energy.

“They have stood with us from the outset of this tragedy, providing significant support for the rescue and recovery effort.”

Dow added that some of its management is looking at “the potential impact of this situation on the business”

“Support from our suppliers and others at this time is appreciated.”

Possible greentape hold-ups

The Pike River mine, next to the Paparoa National Park, has faced tough environmental obstacles during development.

A NZ Department of Conservation spokesman was quoted by Radio New Zealand, saying the department “ultimately agreed” to every post-accident application from Pike for a “ventilation shaft” and bore holes.

The request to drill another ventilation shaft was reportedly a possible threat to the blue duck.

Drilling of the first borehole to get additional gas data did not take place until two days after the first explosion.

While there might have been some environmental hurdles, ILN has heard there might have been weather issues as well, with helicopters needed to support the job.