Thursday, January 13, 2011

A mining disaster that should not have happened

Progress at Pike River coal mine

Police halt body recovery at New Zealand mine
Posted: 13 January 2011 1648 hrs
WELLINGTON: New Zealand police said on Thursday they were abandoning efforts to retrieve the bodies of 29 men killed in one of the country's worst mine disasters.

After a two-month operation, police commissioner Howard Broad said there was no realistic prospect of recovering the bodies entombed in the Pike River colliery since November 19, when a methane gas explosion tore through the mine.

Broad said the mine would be handed back to the receivers who had taken charge of the Pike River Coal company and it would be up to them to decide if recovery efforts should resume once volatile gases underground subsided.

The other option was to "simply put a fence around it and walk away", he added.

"In my view, it is time to focus on the living and respect and memorialise those men who have died," he added.

The victims of the disaster, which Prime Minister John Key said had plunged New Zealand into mourning, included two Australians, two Britons and a South African.

A series of explosions continued to rock the mine in the weeks following the initial blast, igniting an underground fire and making the pit, on the South Island's remote west coast, too dangerous to enter.

Efforts to stabilise the underground atmosphere this week by sealing cracks in the mine shaft with expanding foam then flooding the pit with inert gases failed and Broad said sending in recovery teams would put lives at risk.

Since the disaster, Pike River Coal has been placed in receivership and most of its employees have been made redundant.

Executives at Pike River had hoped to eventually reopen the mine but shares in the company have been suspended since receivers took over in mid-December and the latest development casts further doubt on its future.

- AFP/fa

 Progress at Pike River coal mine

Recovery efforts have taken a step forward with workers finally capping the Pike River coal mine.
Two large steel plates were lowered, via helicopter, onto the mine’s ventilation shafts and then secured with sandbags on Sunday at 2pm local time.
Capping of the ventilation shafts is expected to trap the carbon dioxide emitted by the GAG jet, controlling the mine’s oxygen levels and preventing fires from reigniting.
If the oxygen levels remain stable, then the GAG jet can be stopped for maintenance while workers use more concrete to seal the mine’s entrance.
From that point onwards “it will be a case of maintaining a stable atmosphere inside the mine,” Police superintendent Dave Cliff said.
Police plan to eventually pump nitrogen gas into the underground mine over the coming days to retain the inert atmosphere and cool the mine.
On Friday, Police stated their intention to hand control of the mine back to Pike River Coal, who are focused on the recovery of 29 miners underground.

Nov 28, 2010 Fourth blast rocks NZ death mine
GREYMOUTH - ANOTHER explosion on Sunday tore through a New Zealand colliery where 29 miners died earlier this month, police said, adding no one was injured in the latest blast.

The blast, the fourth at the Pike River coal mine since an initial November 19 explosion trapped the men, and demonstrated the colliery's volatility, police said.

'There were no injuries and people working near the entrance to the mine were moved away from the area for their safety,' superintendent Dave Cliff said.

Emergency crews have been unable to recover bodies from the remote South Island mine because it remains flooded with explosive methane gas. -- AFP

Disaster may stop mining in NZ - 28 Nov 2010
GREYMOUTH (New Zealand) - THE future of New Zealand?s entire underground mining industry was in doubt following a colliery disaster that claimed 29 lives, Prime Minister John Key said on Sunday.

The industry, which has enjoyed a boom in recent years thanks to surging demand from Asia, could not continue if there was a risk of more tragedies such as this month's Pike River pit explosion, Mr Key said.

Announcing he wanted a powerful Royal Commission to investigate the disaster, Mr Key told TVNZ: 'In the end, the future of Pike River and actually underground coal mining in New Zealand rests on this. We can't put people into mines that are dangerous.'

He said there were four underground mines in New Zealand and about 450 people were directly involved in the industry.

The colliery, which opened two years ago, remains flooded with explosive methane gas, preventing emergency crews reaching the miners? bodies entombed within. -- AFP

Updated 26 November 2010 at 08:28 GMT
The latest blast happened at 1539 local time - almost exactly one week since the initial blast that caught the men - 24 New Zealanders, two Australians, two Britons and a South African. Prime Minister John Key has warned it may take months to recover the men's bodies, and pledged an investigation, saying the nation "needs answers".

The third blast was less powerful than the earlier two, and no-one was near the mine entrance when it happened, said Pike River Coal chairman John Dow.

Updated: 25 Nov 2010. The latest graphic illustration confirms the earlier obvious methane gas leak through the Howera Fault.

Although this man-made disaster could have been  averted by simple commonsense foresight, such oversights are not legally prosecuted for various vested business interests.
Such safety lapses and cost-cutting measures occur on daily basis across the globe. But as clearly seen in the BP Gulf mega Oil Spill and in this mining disaster, it was a disaster just waiting to happen when negligence meets Nature's fault-line.

Some facts from BBC news report  

  • New Zealand's largest coal mine
  • Employs some 150 people
  • Operational since 2008
  • Accesses Brunner and Paparoa coal seams via 2.3km tunnel under Paparoa Ranges
  • 5.5m-wide, 4.5m-high tunnel bisects Hawera fault, through which methane gas is known to leak
  • First blast is believed to have happened at 1530 (0230 GMT) on Friday
  • Two injured miners emerged from the tunnel entrance on Friday evening

posted 24 Nov 2010.
What is the common factor between the BP Deepwater Horizon (DWH) disaster and the Pike Mine Disaster?
Both companies knowingly drilled into a fault zone with good probabilities of leaking methane gas. The dangers of methane gas had been well-documented and forewarned yet both companies did not exercise extra precautions. On the contrary, instead of beefing up capability (manual expertise and equipment) we saw equipment failing below working specifications.
In the Pike Mine, there were reports that the faulty pumps for the ventilators were not working to capacity. When a tunnel intersect a known fault (Hawera Fault - 60 m wide zone of fractured rocks) surely the possibility of gas infusion into the tunnel should have been checked out. So why were there no reported inspection checks on the methane gas level? Why was the methane allowed to build up to explosive level?
Was there any element of willful negligence as in BP disaster?
Read the latest news on the second explosion.
IS it any surprise the second explosion occur after boreholes were drilled into the tunnel? Basically you are introducing air into an explosive mixture.  Should that not be obvious?
 ~~~~Start of Quote~~~~
An Australian gas drainage engineer who visited the site last year said operating standards were "extremely poor".
His comments were backed up by a world renowned Kiwi mining safety expert who said the explosion at Pike River should never have happened.
Neither will be publicly identified but say safety problems will be investigated in the coming weeks.
"In developed countries like the United States and New Zealand we shouldn't be having these kinds of accidents," the New Zealand expert said.
He was also referring to an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia which killed 29 miners on April 5.

1 comment:

  1. First of all I am truly saddened by this mining disaster that should not have happened in the first place. Yes there are safety breaches in every segment of the exploration and mining industry even in Australia. On paper HSE policies require you to report all breaches but as a QC consultant I can tell you that even the reputed Oil and QC consultants Companies do not relish any safety breaches that are too expensive to rectify. From my own experience, most HSE policies are complied in form and never in substance and in spirit.

    Having said that, the obvious source of gas (methane) leak must be the Hawera Fault. Why the tunnel was allowed to intercept the 60-m fractured fault without appropriate precautions is beyond me? Grouting this fault and sealing the source of the methane gas would be the sensible thing to do before any recovery work can proceed. Until the gas leak source is plugged the mine would be a continuing time bomb. Repeated explosion would also cause landslide and collapse in unstable rock formations in the adjacent areas. Please do not let the existing mining disaster escalate into an uncontrollable situation just like BP did in the Gulf Mega Oil Spill disaster. Contain it while it is still manageable.