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Solid Energy will not re-enter the Pike River Mine

World Coal,

It is too dangerous to re-enter the Pike River mine, according to Solid Energy’s chairman, Pip Dunphy, ruling out recovery of the bodies of miners trapped in the 2010 mine explosion.

“We know this decision will be very disappointing to the family members and friends of the men who died in the mine,” Dunphy says. “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.”

Solid Energy was tasked with developing a re-entry plan after it acquired the assets of Pike River Coal in 2012. “In doing so, we have undertaken a rigorous risk assessment process supported by input from independent technical advisors,” continued Dunphy. “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.”

According to the company, there remain a number of potentially fatal risk factors that make re-entry too dangerous. These include:

  • 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.

“These are 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 2.3 km drift the entrapment occurred and be able to sustain life while drilling a rescue shaft,” concluded Dunphy. “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.”

As a result of the decision, Solid Energy will surrender the Pike River mining permit: “Solid Energy has reviewed all its permit holdings in the past year or so to ensure its portfolio is appropriate for current and expected market demand,” the company explained in a press release.

“If that coal permit was available today, it is very unlikely the company would be interested in acquiring it. In the current and expected market, no mining solution could be developed that would be profitable. This is extremely challenging terrain and any mining option would likely face huge challenges in getting access to the coal and appropriately managing run-off and other environmental issues.”

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

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