We know this is an extremely difficult time for the families. We wish that safe entry was realistic and understand the frustration and disappointment around the fact that it is not.
There are a number of inaccurate and misleading statements circulating in the media that feed false hope. In our view the media and others do a disservice to the families in continuing to misrepresent the factual situation.
For the sake of complete clarity we wish to reiterate that there has been no material improvement in the conditions within the drift (i.e. the tunnel entry to the mine) since our decision was announced in November 2014 that re-entry was too dangerous and could not be made safe.
Our decision was based on an exhaustive investigation into the feasibility of safe re-entry and was backed by independent expertise. Emeritus Professor Jim Galvin – Professor of Mining Engineering at the University of NSW and an internationally recognised expert in underground coal mining risk management – has been advising directors throughout the assessment process and has advised the directors that Solid Energy’s risk assessment process was rigorous and that their decision was informed by quality information regarding the residual risks.
It is disingenuous and, frankly, deeply disappointing, for commentators who lack the full information base on which this decision was made – and who bear no legal responsibility for the outcomes of a re-entry project – to once again raise hopes regarding re-entry.
The reality is that for the entire time since Solid Energy took over Pike River Mine in 2012, the drift has been full of nearly pure methane.
There is no report that shows the gas levels have reduced. There are no recent tests that show the seal is unnecessary. In fact, our continuous monitoring shows that methane remains at around 98% and is continually being released into the mine and drift.
Preparation for the sealing of the mine, a complex and multi-step process, has been underway for nearly two years. The families were aware of this and have been consulted about the timing and the nature of the seal on an on-going basis.
Work was deferred for a week in the run up to the sixth anniversary of the mine explosion, as a mark of respect for the families. It will resume today (Monday 21 November) in line with a deadline set by WorkSafe for the sealing of the mine by the end of the month.
Solid Energy’s responsibility as the mine owner and operator is to make the site safe prior to its handover to the Department of Conservation (DOC). A methane-filled mine, with only a temporary seal, in a difficult to access, geotechnically unstable area is unacceptable. We will continue to implement our 2014 decision to seal the mine, and once this task is completed, it will be handed over to DOC.
The fact remains that the legal responsibility for the safety of any re-entry remains with the directors of Solid Energy. Solid Energy did not own the mine at the time of the explosions. While we have deep sympathy for the position of the families, the directors’ decision is entirely motivated by our responsibility for the safety of the site and any person entering the mine. The risk of endangering more lives is not a risk we believe should be taken.
No further statement will be issued at this time.