Pike Mine safe to re-enter - mine expert

By Viv Logie

Pike River Coal Ltd and its receivers say the mine is still unsafe, four months after an explosion killed 29 men whose bodies still lie under the mountain, but the chairman of a trans-Tasman committee on mine safety insists that entry is now possible.
Garry House, who chairs the hazardous areas electrical co-ordination committee of Standards New Zealand, said today he understood why frustrated volunteers in the West Coast Mines Rescue had quit.
“They have good reason to have run out of patience and become angry and frustrated about not being allowed to enter the mine,” Mr House said.
At least one Mines Rescue volunteer quit this week, another was threatening to join him today and the Greymouth Star understands others are ready to walk after four months of being thwarted in their recovery attempts, firstly by the police and now by the Pike River receiver.
Mr House said he and other experts firmly believed the mine could be re-entered, “even full of gas”.
“When a mine gets gassy, miners are taught to get out and told they cannot go back in until gas levels drop. In fact, there are people who work in those conditions all the time and know how to get in. There is a way to manage the gas situation there, especially if it is handled properly.”
Continually taking gas readings was “a waste of time”.
“Those doing it assume it (the mine) is in the worst state all the time. But it does not matter if the gas levels are 70% or 80% — there are safe ways of going in,” Mr House said.
“Unfortunately, there is nothing in the mining regulations or standards the miners work with to say ‘go in’. The readings get to 2.5% and they are told to get out.”
With the combination of red tape and regulations it was possible that no one would ever be allowed back into the mine, he said.
“Some of the local Mines Rescue volunteers, with a few brains, know different and understand that entry is possible.
“At the time of the explosion the police stopped any entry because of so-called information they were given. The police were making those decisions rationally, but they did not have the expertise to analyse any of the information — especially about gas levels — they were given,” Mr House said.