You would think that, to reassure the families and satisfy critics, the government would have released detailed technical analysis showing why re-entering Pike River will never be possible. Instead, we got vague, contradictory statements only after the media pressed Key for answers. Now, a mining expert has confirmed the mine’s atmosphere is stable and can be made breathable cheaply.
Here’s the key passages from the Press article:
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”.
Cliff was among the experts consulted by police before last week’s announcement that the mine would be sealed.
He said there had been a “marked improvement” in the mine atmosphere over the past few days.
“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. …
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.
Pike River Families Committee spokesman Bernie Monk said they had had no information.
“The main thing is to get our loved ones out.
“Number two, we need the proper information to go to the coroner at the end of the month.
“Number three, we need to get in there to find out the truth of what has happened. We don’t want any hearsay,” Monk said.”
So, the mine isn’t safe but there’s no more burning and no more ignition source to re-start the burning because lack of oxygen has put the fire out. It’s not yet safe to enter but a few quarter of boreholes at quarter of a million a pop – so the methane is let out and normal atmosphere in – and the following goals can be achieved: remains can be recovered, evidence in the mine can be examined, a potentially dangerous concentration of methane on DoC land can be eliminated and, possibly, the process of getting the mine back into operation can begin. Seems pretty cheap.
This makes the government’s inadequately explained decision to halt the process even odder.
Odd too, is Gerry Brownlee’s insistence that the receivers decide by the end of today what they will do with the mine. As the Press’s editorial asks, ‘what’s the rush?’. Another way of asking that question is ‘who benefits from rushing the receivers into a decision?’.
I don’t know. I can’t puzzle it out. I just can’t see any motive for the government’s bizarre behaviour, unless it really is about cost and the government set a limit of $5 million which has now been reached.
But I do know that if the government was telling us the whole story then everything would be out in the open and above board – we wouldn’t have ministers ducking from the media and giving vague, shifting answers.